The ABA Standards and the Standards Review Process

Volume 45 Number 2

Greetings of the season to all members of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. We trust that the fall term was a productive one for our faculty and student members. Thanks to all our members for your continuing interest in and support of the work of the Section and the Council.

As most of you know, the Council is moving toward closure on a multi-year comprehensive review of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools and the associated Rules of Procedure. This is a regular part of our process. It has taken longer than prior overall reviews, but the Standards are important to the interesting set of contemporary challenges and opportunities for legal education. The Council, the Standards Review Committee, and the staff want to take the time and invest the energy to do the job well.

At this inflection point in the evolution of legal education, care must be taken to reaffirm enduring fundamental aspects of our regulatory regime. At the same time, the Standards’ framework for a sound program of legal education can be simplified and streamlined. The Standards’ primary aim is to focus on the law schools’ J.D. programs, assuring that they are sound and that they educate and prepare students for productive and meaningful professional lives.

Views vary on what is fundamental to a sound program of legal education and what is not. That is where the lively and largely healthy debate has been focused over the last few years.

Please join in the discussion and debate. You can review the proposals that the Council has circulated for notice and comment and, indeed, review the entire record of this comprehensive review process by going to the Section website’s Comprehensive Review of the Standards page. If you have a comment, please submit it (information on where to send comments is included on the webpage linked above).  Both the Council and the Standards Review Committee want input and comment from all of legal education’s stakeholders. Blog postings and other opinion pieces in the paper and electronic news are a useful part of the discourse about the Standards, but it is even more helpful if those points of view are made a part of the record and presented directly to the Council.

There are at least three upcoming opportunities to discuss the Standards and the proposals for change. AALS annual meeting attendees can attend two programs. On Friday, January 3, from 10:30-11:30 a.m., the Section will host a panel discussion on innovation under the Standards. This program will consider the room that exists within the current Standards for innovation and new programs and discuss a proposed new Standard on variances that will more explicitly be aimed at innovation. As this is written, those participating in that discussion are Professor Catherine Carpenter (Southwestern Law School); Dean Frank Wu (UC Hastings); Dean David Yellen (Loyola-Chicago); and Scott Norberg (Deputy Consultant on Legal Education at the ABA), who will also moderate the panel.

On Saturday, January 4, from 4:00-5:45 p.m., the Section will sponsor a program providing an overview of the comprehensive review of the Standards and the proposals that are out for notice and comment. That panel will include Professor Susan Kay (Vanderbilt); Professor Jeff Lewis (Saint Louis University); Leo Martinez (UC Hastings); the Honorable Solomon Oliver (Chief Judge of the United States District Court, N.D. Ohio); Dean Maureen O’Rourke (Boston University); and Barry Currier (Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education at the ABA), who will also moderate the panel. Judge Oliver is current chairperson of the Section’s Council and Dean O’Rourke is a member of the Council. Jeff Lewis is the current chairperson of the Standards Review Committee, which advises the Council on the Standards, and Sue Kay is a member of that committee. Leo Martinez is, of course, the current president of the AALS.  The panel will provide a brief overview of some of the more significant proposals for change in the Standards and leave ample time for questions and discussions from the audience.

 The Section appreciates the AALS making space in a busy conference for these programs.

Finally, the Council has scheduled a hearing during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago in February where interested persons may come and present their comments on the proposed changes to the Standards to a group that will include members of the Council and the Standards Review Committee. The hearing will be held Wednesday, February 5 and Thursday, February 6 at the ABA offices in Chicago. For more information, see the article entitled "Standards Notice and Comment: Hearing Scheduled for February" in this issue of Syllabus.

The ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools are far from the only, or even the primary, determinant of the quality of U.S. law schools’ programs of legal education. They are important, however, in setting the basic requirements that all schools must meet. This serves the public interest, the interests of students, and the need of the state supreme courts and bar admitting authorities that rely on ABA approval to signify that a graduate of an ABA-approved law school has the education that is necessary prior to sitting for the bar examination and being admitted to practice. That basic framework in place, the Standards then should leave room for schools to seek their own destinies and to develop programs that serve their, often very different, missions. This, I believe, has been a theme of this comprehensive review process. On behalf of the Council and the staff, thanks to everyone who has followed the process closely and contributed to it.

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