October 01, 2015

Notes from the Incoming Chair

The Honorable Rebecca White Berch
Council Chair
Justice, Arizona Supreme Court

As I write this inaugural letter as chair of the Council, issues relating to law schools are emblazoned on the news and editorial pages of influential print and e-media, from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to the National Law Journal – in addition, of course, to academic journals and blogs.  Subjects range from the effects of the economy on law school admissions and new-lawyer job prospects to the need to rein in the cost of legal education – or at least make the allocation of costs among students more fair.

These economically driven issues, continuing work on proposals from the Standards Review Committee and the Data Policy and Collection Committee, and other issues will shape the work of the Council this coming year.  The ABA Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education, chaired by Dennis Arche,r and the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, chaired by Randy Shepard, have provided additional ideas for consideration.  And as always, we will consider the work of the Accreditation Committee as it assesses the work of its fact-finders who review law school programs, both established and new.

Also on the agenda for this year is preparation for Council re-recognition by the U.S. Department of Education as the official accrediting entity for American law schools.  We are to appear before department representatives early in 2016.  Our job is to assure the department that the Council fully understands and implements its recognition criteria and is committed to the goal of ensuring that accredited law schools provide sound programs of legal education.  We will also confirm that we have in place consistently applied and fair procedures designed to protect the interests of the public, law students and potential students, and law schools.

As we begin the work for the year, I marvel at the amazing talent of the many volunteers who support the work of the Section and Council.  If we were charged going rates for the thousands of hours donated by the academicians, practicing lawyers, judges, and talented lay volunteers who so generously give of their time, we couldn’t afford ourselves.  We are immensely grateful for their help.

The accreditation process also asks much of the schools that we approve.  But that process helps determine access to the profession, assures that students get a good legal education, and protects the public.  We are grateful for the time and energy spent by deans, professional staff, and faculties of the law schools in ensuring that their programs operate within the Standards and that they gather and submit the required reports.

We will continue to do our work openly and transparently.  To that end, we often seek input from other ABA groups, constituent and affiliate groups, and members of the public.  We do appreciate and seriously consider all comments.  I look forward to hearing from any interested persons throughout the year, and thank you for taking the time to bring your thoughts to our attention and your interest in our work.