Law Schools

Legal Ed Section's council wraps standards review, keeps ban on academic credit for paid externships

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The governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has wrapped up its comprehensive review of the law school accreditation standards.

The council, which met Friday in Cleveland, approved five of the six remaining proposed changes in the standards, including one that would permit schools to admit up to 10 percent of their entering class with students who haven’t taken the Law School Admissions Test and one that would limit the number of transfer credits a school can grant for prior law study not taken as a JD-degree student at an ABA-approved school.

It also approved new rules of procedure, a new set of definitions, a new protocol for auditing reported law school employment outcomes beginning with the graduating class of 2015, and the deletion of a chapter of standards whose provisions have been moved elsewhere in the standards.

In fact, the only proposed change in the standards the council didn’t approve was one that would have eliminated the current prohibition against granting academic credit to a student for participating in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.

The section’s Standards Review Committee, which had proposed the change, felt that a blanket prohibition against receiving credit for a paid placement unnecessarily restricts the number of field placement opportunities available to students.

But a majority of the council sided with critics of the proposed change, who fear that allowing students to be paid for a field placement program for which they receive academic credit would undermine the academic focus of the experience.

“If this is about the educational experience, it shouldn’t be turned into a job,” said Edwin J. Butterfoss, a professor at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, one of nine council members who voted the proposal down.

All of the proposed changes in the standards—along with a host of others approved by the council in March—will be reviewed by the ABA House of Delegates at the association’s 2014 annual meeting in Boston in August.

The House can either concur with a proposed change or refer it back to the council for reconsideration, with a statement setting forth its reasons for the referral. But it can only do so twice, and the council has the final say on any changes in the standards.

At its meeting Friday, the council also discussed but took no action on a proposed new set of internal operating practices and a revised statement of ethical practices that apply to the section’s accreditation project.

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