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September 07, 2021

Message from New Approval Commission Chair, Robyn Ice

Robyn Ice, J.D., M.F.A., Senior Professor of Practice and Director, General Legal Studies and Applied Business Programs, Tulane University School of Professional Advancement

Among other duties, the Approval Commission of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Paralegals is tasked with evaluating paralegal studies programs intensely and directly, reviewing academic files and procedures; observing classes, meeting faculty, students, alumni advisory boards, and administrators.  To that end, two-person site teams, composed primarily of volunteer paralegal program directors and practicing paralegals, visit academic institutions across the country, normally in person but, in these abnormal times, via virtual means.  Based upon their field observations, the two-person site visit teams not only compile reports recommending approval or reapproval but also work closely with program directors to guide them toward compliance with the Guidelines for the Approval of Paralegal Education Programs.    

In fulfilling its investigative function, the Approval Commission has the opportunity to see first-hand how programs are adapting paralegal education to meet the evolving needs of their students and of the legal communities they service.  Over time, our site visit teams have seen and reported about technological innovations that have revolutionized online and hybrid course delivery and synchronous transmission methods; social media platforms that facilitate ongoing contact with our alumni; survey software that simplifies the assessment process; and pedagogical innovations that engage students and bring new life to subject matter.     

Based upon some of these field observations of changing conditions, the Approval Commission has recommended, and the Standing Committee on Paralegals has passed, policies and Guidelines amendments reflecting these developments, including the growing role of technology in academia as well as the law office.  Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, these amendments had expanded the reach of our programs, enabling schools to make quality, ABA-approved paralegal education accessible to a more diverse population of students, regardless of their geographic location. 

With these amendments in place, the Standing Committee and Approval Commission were able to  react nimbly and effectively when the pandemic struck.  To meet those unprecedented and adverse conditions, they temporarily passed measures allowing the performance of virtual site visits and created clear guidelines to steer the process. These actions enabled ABA’s program approval process to continue apace, providing certainty to programs whose approval status was at risk.     

As we begin the 2021-2022 academic year, many are returning to campuses where face coverings and vaccines are highly contested, even as the Delta variant spreads.  Now, and in the coming months, the Standing Committee and Approval Commission will continue to move forward, taking the actions necessary to ensure the ongoing quality, growth, and progress of our educational programs.  Thanks to the observations of our site visit teams, both bodies will be able to continue to recognize the issues early and make informed decisions promptly, despite the changing path of the pandemic and other uncertainties.