Honorable Scott Bales
Chief Justice (Retired)
Arizona Supreme Court
2020-2021 Council Chair
2020 will be remembered as a year that upended nearly all our lives – for many, tragically – and transformed institutions across society and around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences and the imperative to fight racial injustice pose important challenges for legal education, the profession, and legal institutions more broadly. In such a transformative time, it is essential that law schools and the Council themselves adapt and evolve to better advance the goals of legal education and the accreditation process.
Events this year have highlighted the resilience and commitment of law students, faculty, and the deans and other administrators in law schools nationwide. That they could unexpectedly and quickly switch to online learning formats for nearly their entire programs took tremendous effort and deserves recognition. Similarly, Council staff has ably assisted law schools and the Council in implementing a process for emergency variances that allows law schools to respond to the pandemic while otherwise adhering to the Standards.
The year has been transformative for the Council and staff wholly apart from COVID-19. Bill Adams succeeded Barry Currier as the Managing Director and Bill’s experience as Deputy Managing Director ensured a smooth transition after Barry’s long and successful tenure. Stephanie Giggetts has become the Deputy Managing Director, and Kirsten Winek is our new Accreditation Counsel. They all have been working tremendously hard in their new roles, and I know their efforts are appreciated by the law schools and the Council members.
Looking forward, the Council recognizes the need to continually reassess the Standards and how it does its work. Over recent years, we have implemented important changes aimed at making the process less burdensome on schools, more expeditious, and more responsive – such as eliminating the Accreditation Committee and consolidating its functions into the Council, extending the time period between regular site visits to ten years, simplifying reporting by schools, and focusing more on interim monitoring. We welcome input on how these changes are working or can be improved, as well as ideas for others.
Substantive changes to the Standards are also on the horizon. At its August meeting, the Council approved an ambitious agenda for the Standards Committee, including considering changes related to well-being and professionalism; diversity, equity, and inclusion; student loan data and reporting; admissions testing; and distance education. Last month, the Council hosted a useful roundtable discussion to elicit input on many of these issues; another is being planned specific to distance education. In coming months, the Standards Committee will be developing recommendations for possible Council action and adoption through our usual notice and comment process.
More broadly, the Council will continue to reassess how, in its role as the national accreditor, it can best help ensure that law schools prepare their students for admission to the bar and effective participation in the profession, recognizing the need for innovation, transparency, and accountability. I look forward to hearing others’ suggestions and to working with the Council and other Section members toward these goals.