Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ABA as gatekeeper of legal education

I happen to agree with most, if not all, the standards the ABA uses to evaluate law schools for accreditation. I believe the standards are good-faith efforts to be sure students are offered a good level of education if they go to an ABA-accredited school. Mass School of Law in Andover, MA, disagrees. This school was founded to prove the ABA standards are not needed to guarantee a good legal education. They have not been accredited by the ABA (not surprisingly), sued the ABA for blocking their students from taking the bar. As part of a settlement agreement, students from the Mass School of Law may take the Massachusetts bar exam, and if they pass, practice here. Now, the deans at Mass School of Law are challenging the ABA's position as accreditor for law schools nationwide, by condemning the standards to the Secretary of Education (link here to the story in the Boston Globe by Sacha Pfeiffer). This is yet another attack on the ABA's authority to accredit law schools, separate from ALDA deans.


Jim Milles said...

I'm a little more skeptical about both the motives and effect of ABA regulation of legal education--but I don't want to exaggerate my skepticism. Numerous writers in many law journal articles over the years have made pretty compelling arguments over the years about ABA regulation being a classic example of rent-seeking. It is certainly wise to take any claims of protection of the public good by the process of ABA regulations with several large grains of salt. The ABA is hardly a disinterested party. On the other hand, it may well be that, on the whole, some version of the current self-regulation model is better than any alternative.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jim,
You have a good point. when I read the Wikipedia definition of "rent seeking" that you provide, my first response was, "Gee, I'd like to be one of those people in a modern industrial society who benefits from rent seeking!" Then I realized that I do -- from the ABA standards. I count on them to protect libraries and librarians in a potentially very hostile dean environment. That's why I am so hostile to the claims of ALDA deans and Mass School of Law against the ABA standards. Also, I do believe that some imposition of standards does benefit the students. (well, I also doubt the good faith of the ALDA deans when they want to reduce outside pressure on them to manage their schools. I am so paranoid that I tend to assume they want to duck the pressures to diversify their faculty and students. That's pretty paranoid, huh?)

Jim Milles said...

I think the position the ALDA deans are taking is in response to the legal writing instructors. We librarians (well, library directors anyway) have been pretty successful in institutionalizing our guild status in the ABA standards; the clinical instructors later did the same. Now, in recent years, the ALWD is trying to do the same thing: require tenure or continuing appointment as part of the ABA standards. The deans are arguing that the ABA should not be regulating employment contracts under the pretext of protecting the public interest by assuring minimal standards of quality in legal education. Logically, the deans' argument extends to full-time teaching faculty; practically, only the most marginal of schools are likely to try to alter the institution of tenure.

Anonymous said...

Jim, if you look at the ALDA deans' statement, they are going after tenure for ALL faculty, as well as pressures for diversity and affirmative action. They are NOT a benign group that will only hurt ALWD members. Besides, I go with the quote from Martin Niemoller, who died in Nazi concentration camps:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

ALDA would be delighted to divide and conquer!

Jim Milles said...

Betsy, my sense is that they're going after TENURE; they're going after the ABA's REQUIREMENT of tenure. I can imagine that one or two law schools (probably independent or proprietary ones) might try to abolish tenure for teaching faculty. (Does Massachusetts School of Law have tenured faculty?) But the vast majority of schools, for purposes of prestige and ranking, won't be interested in eliminating tenure; if they do, how will they be able to attract top faculty? How many schools aspire to model themselves after Massachusetts School of Law rather than Harvard or Yale?