Quality legal education is an essential element in producing legal professionals who can competently represent clients and contribute to the establishment of the rule of law. However, in many emerging and transitioning democracies, the quality of legal education does not meet international standards, and many law graduates do not possess the requisite skills to be effective legal professionals. Against this backdrop, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) developed the Legal Education Reform Index (LERI), an innovative tool that assesses the status of legal education in emerging democracies vis-à-vis internationally established principles. The LERI offers international organizations, development agencies, technical legal assistance providers and local reformers a reliable means to target legal education reform programs and monitor progress towards establishing quality legal education systems.
In developing the LERI, ABA ROLI relied on comparative legal traditions as well as international, regional and national standards and best practices for legal education, accreditation, degree recognition and quality assurance developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education, the European Union, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, the European Consortium for Accreditation, the European University Association, the European Law Faculties Association, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Council of African States and Madagascar for Higher Education, the American Bar Association and the Clinical Legal Education Association. ABA ROLI was also able to rely on 20 years of its technical legal assistance experience reforming legal education systems and promoting the rule of law in more than 70 countries worldwide.
The LERI evaluates legal education systems through a prism of 22 factors, each of which sets forth particular standards related to the following six topics: licensing, accreditation and evaluation; admission policies and requirements; curriculum and teaching methodology; evaluation of students, awarding of degrees and recognition of qualifications; faculty qualifications and employment conditions; and institutional holdings and capacities. These factors are evaluated by a neutral, independent assessment team on the basis of a rigorous analysis of a country’s legal framework that regulates higher education institutions and legal education programs (de jure analysis), and a series of in-depth, structured interviews and focus groups with law school administrators, faculty and students, government officials responsible for higher education, legal education experts, legal practitioners and other interested parties (de facto analysis). The results are collected in a standardized LERI country assessment report. Following each factor statement, a correlation value of positive, neutral or negative is assigned, and a brief summary describing the basis for this conclusion is provided. A more thorough analysis of the issues, relevant legal provisions, local conditions and mechanisms present or lacking in a country’s legal education system follows. The LERI does not make specific recommendations for reform, but rather provides a diagnostic analysis of the strengths and weaknesses surrounding a country’s legal education.
Data collected through the LERI assessment enables ABA ROLI to better understand important legal education reform elements and to target its technical assistance programs accordingly. In addition to facilitating strategic planning, the LERI can be used to monitor legal education reform over time and to systematically catalog problems and solutions. The LERI assessment constitutes a baseline against which progress, or backsliding, can be measured through periodic applications of the LERI. Repetition of the LERI in a particular country establishes upward or downward trends on individual factors. Finally, the LERI provides a platform for an unprecedented level of comparative legal research and analysis that may be used to inform a variety of audiences about the state of legal education in emerging democracies. As such, it is well suited to identifying and transferring specialized knowledge and lessons-learned.