ABA Sets Groundwork for Change

Possible changes are afoot with the ABA, and anyone interested in legal education will want to take note.  These changes are important because of the ABA’s influence on U.S. law schools.   Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, the current Chair of the Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has appointed three new committees. These committees are in response to the 2007 Report of the Accreditation Policy Task Force. One of the committees will focus on the issue of “security of position,” which as been on a lot of peoples’ minds since the ABA Accreditation Committee approved one-year contracts and no meaningful participation in faculty governance for most of the clinical faculty at Northwestern. The other two committees are Outcome Measures and Transparency.These committees are important for several reasons.  The Security of Position Committee will make recommendations that affect both the seriousness with which law schools treat clinical legal education courses, which the Carnegie Report Educating Lawyers and Best Practices cite as important in developing professional identiy in addition to teaching lawyering skills and professional values.  If faculty teaching clinical courses do not have security of position and a role in faculty governance, their courses and their perspectives remain on the margins of the law school.  In addition, without security of position clinical faculty will be denied any meaningful protection of their academic freedom.The Outcomes Measures Committee is important because, up to this point, the ABA Standards have not seriously sought to determine if law schools are preparing law students for the competent, ethical practice of law.  Instead, the ABA and law schools rely primarily on bar passage rates that vary greatly from state-to-state and that themselves have never been evaluated for validly, consistency, and reliabilty.  

The Transparency Committee will look at how the ABA’s own procedures might be changed to provide law schools, faculty, and students with access to more information about how the law school accreditation process works.  For example, the ABA could archive and make accessible on-line all of the public comments concerning various ABA Standards so that debates could be understood and placed in historical context.  Instead, the information does not even appear to be collected and catalogued by the ABA for its own committees’ use.  More information about the accreditation process could also be made available so that law schools, especially those seeking ABA acceditation, could determine if the ABA is even-handed in its application of the Standards. 

The cover memorandum explaining the three committees and their charges is located at http://www.abanet.org/legaled/committees/SpecialCommitteeAppointment.doc

The Security of Position Committee membership list is located at http://www.abanet.org/legaled/committees/Security%20of%20Position%20Cmte.docThe Outcomes Measures Committee membership list is located at http://www.abanet.org/legaled/committees/Outcome%20Measures%20Cmte.doc

The Transparency Committee membership list is located at http://www.abanet.org/legaled/committees/Transparency%20Cmte.doc

The committees are charged with submitting an interim report to the Council in May 2008. It is unclear if any of the committees will hold hearings or affirmatively seek outside input as they study their respective issues. Of course, everyone is free to send comments to the committee members. 

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