August 12, 2017

Council reconsiders decision on how to report job figures for law school graduates

The way which the American Bar Association’s national accreditor of law schools reports employment numbers for graduating classes will get another look before its release next spring.

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar decided Friday to send the matter to its Standards Review Committee for recommendations after some law schools and others complained about a change made two months ago that caught many by surprise.

“This matter has generated a fair amount of discussion,” said Barry Currier, managing director of accreditation. “We heard from a number of people pro and con.”

Altogether, more than two dozen comments were received related to a somewhat arcane change to how employment figures for the past graduating class of law schools are reported. The council, which acts as the ABA’s independent arm for law school accreditation under a U.S. Department of Education contract, veered from its usual procedures in early June by approving the change without input from its Standards Review Committee. The change essentially collapsed certain categories in the figures reported to the public under what is called Standard 509 Data.

On Friday, meeting in New York in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting that runs from Aug. 10-15, the council reversed course.

“Word has reached Managing Director Currier and your officers … that the change is not receiving the universal, or near universal, acclamation that was anticipated in good faith,” outgoing Council Chair Greg Murphy wrote members in advance of Friday’s meeting. “This is true with respect to both process and substance. I am usually loath to urge reconsideration of settled matters. However, where there is reason to believe that a deviation from accepted practice has generated some unanticipated consequences, I think it appropriate to pause and reconsider, even if in the end the decision might well be the same.”

For the most part Friday, the council set an ambitious agenda for its next meeting in Boston in early November. Among the topics at that session could be consideration of a new standard for a school’s bar passage rate as well as a proposed reorganization of the way the council handles both its standards and accreditation matters.

In February, the ABA House of Delegates turned thumbs down on a move by the council to simplify and strengthen the bar passage standard for the 205 ABA-accredited law schools. Under ABA procedures, the House can consider a change in standards twice, but the final decision rests with the council.

A few weeks ago, Currier recommended the council explore folding the work of its Standards Review and Accreditation committees into the council itself to operate more efficiently and to save money. The Standards Review Committee could prepare a recommendation for the council’s November meeting and any proposed change could go to the House no earlier than February 2018.

In other business:

·        The council heard a report from Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which administers the bar exam nationally. She reported that preliminary results from the July exam indicate a modest uptick in bar scores for the second consecutive year after scores dropped previously. ‘The overall news is quite optimistic for this year’s exam,” she said.

·        Judith Areen, executive director of the American Association of Law Schools, told the council that her group has undertaken a survey of 3,000 undergraduate students and 1,000 first-year law students on their decision-making process in considering graduate degrees. Gallup, Inc. is conducting the survey and preliminary results are expected in January.

The council also discussed Friday accreditation matters in closed session, consistent with its rules. For the open-meeting agenda of Friday’s meeting, including reports, click here.