Legal Education

To what extent could law school libraries be digital? ABA Legal Ed Section seeks public comment

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Proposed revisions to law school library accreditation standards, including language stating that physical books might not be necessary, were approved for notice and comment Friday by the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

Also approved for notice and comment are recommended revisions to standards involving programs, outcomes and assessments, as well as a new standard focused on academic freedom. The council meeting took place in Chicago.

An Aug. 17 memo from the council’s Strategic Review Committee details the proposals. Regarding law libraries, the communication involving physical books falls under Standard 604.

“The purpose of these revisions is to give law libraries flexibility to use space, technology, information resources and collection formats most appropriate for their law school,” the memo states.

The memo also suggests adding language about law school libraries to Standard 701, which focuses on general law school requirements, about what should be considered when determining whether a school’s technology and support is in compliance with the standard.

Additionally, the council voted in favor of an amendment to remove a proposed revision stating that a physical plant is not required for a law school library. The amendment was brought by Scott Pagel, a law professor and the associate dean for information services at the George Washington University Law School.

At a later date, the council will consider changes to law school physical plants under Chapter 7 of the Standards, which covers facilities, equipment and technology.

Regarding academic freedom, the memo suggests adding a new standard requiring law schools to have an “established and announced policy” on the subject. It also addresses freedom of expression and recommends wording stating that the standard would apply to full- and part-time faculty, afford due process to people who claim their academic freedom has been violated and condemn disruptive behavior that hinders free expression.

Currently, Standard 405 requires law schools to have an “established and announced policy” about academic freedom. More guidance on academic freedom policies is welcomed by law schools, according to professors, deans and outside counsel interviewed by the ABA Journal.

Daniel Thies, vice chair of the council and chair of the Strategic Review Committee, said the proposal was prompted by concerns about the atmosphere on campuses and jurisdictions trying to outlaw the teaching of certain topics, including critical race theory.

Other proposed revisions in the Strategic Review Committee memo address learning outcomes and program objectives, including establishing measurable outcomes for required law school courses. The proposal relates to Standard 302, which focuses on legal education program objectives.

Additionally, the memo suggests a proposed revision to require formative assessments in all first-year courses. If a student does not reach a “satisfactory level” on the assessments, law schools would be required to provide academic support. This would fall under Standard 314, which focuses on student learning assessments.

And the memo proposes that law schools review and revise course learning outcomes every five years based on employer data and law practice developments. The proposed revision is for Standard 315, which focuses on evaluation, outcomes and assessment methods for legal education programs.

A proposed revision to Standard 403, regarding the instruction role of faculty, suggests adding a requirement that those in full-time positions annually partake in pedagogical training that promotes effective teaching. Topics could include course design and classroom management.

In other business, the council approved proposed language changes related to standards noncompliance. The suggestions, detailed in a May memo, include adding more wording to the definition of “probation” to make clear that it refers to a law school being in jeopardy of having accreditation withdrawn for standards noncompliance. According to Thies, the proposed revision will likely go to the ABA House of Delegates at the midyear meeting in February.

Also on Friday, Bill Adams, managing director for accreditation and legal education at the ABA, discussed the status of proposed amendments to Standards 501 and 503. Both focus on law school admissions, and Standard 503 requires an entrance exam.

In February, the House of Delegates rejected a Section of Legal Education resolution to remove the entrance exam requirement from Standard 503. Less than two weeks later, the council voted to submit the proposal again at the ABA Annual Meeting. But by its next public session in May, it paused the plan in light of concerns from law school deans.

Adams stressed that this was not a permanent withdrawal of the resolution, and the council may at some point resubmit it to the ABA House of Delegates. He referenced Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion that found admissions decisions must be based on the individual student’s experience and perseverance, not their race.

“We are aware that in light of the recent SCOTUS opinion, many schools—maybe all schools—are taking a new look at admissions policies. We welcome all schools to apply for a variance to admit some students without an LSAT. If you want that kind of a variance, we would be glad to help explain the process to you,” he said.

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