Top 6 Underreported Changes to the ABA Accreditation Standards

(That should read “proposed” changes, but I wanted to keep this parody listicle under 71 characters.)

I’ve seen some of the reporting on the changes to the ABA’s accreditation standards that the Council of the Section of Legal Education proposed on June 6. The ABA’s House of Delegates will decide on them in August; you can read here about the intricate procedural shenanigans that ensue if the house chooses not to concur with the council.

That page also contains the link to the pdf of the revised standards, which I read through, and frankly I think others commenting on the proposed changes should have as well, for there are some juicy nuggets there that have gone unreported and underreported. Just about all of the coverage has been on two topics: (a) the council’s decision to disallow course credit for paid externships, and (b) the rule allowing up to 10 percent of a law school’s entering class to forgo the LSAT under certain circumstances. I have nothing to add about the paid externship rule, but the LSAT requirement will be number one on the list. So…

(1)  The 10 percent LSAT rule is not open ended.

Really, this topic was badly underreported, and anyone who didn’t read the actual proposed change was led to believe that law schools would be able to admit up to 10 percent of a class without an LSAT score for just about any reason whatsoever. Not even close. The new Interpretation 503-3 only allows applicants to forgo the LSAT if either (a) they’re undergraduates at the same institution to which they’re applying to law school, or (b) they’re seeking a dual-degree at that institution. The benefits will go primarily to law schools putting together 4-2/3-3/3-2 (for masochists) undergrad-J.D. programs and those touting their dual-degree offerings.

Even then, applicants in both circumstances must still take a standardized test. They must have scored in the 85th percentile or higher on the ACT or SAT if they’re undergrads at the same institution. If they’re seeking a dual-degree, they must have scored at the 85th percentile or higher in the GMAT or GRE. No one gets into law school without taking a standardized test and doing very well on it. Applicants must also have either ranked in the top 10 percent of their undergraduate classes “through” six semesters (I’m unsure if this means six semesters total or six consecutive semesters) or achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or greater.

Bottom line: Very few applicants will benefit from this interpretation, and in no way is it watering down the aptitude requirement because only very sharp people will be able to use it. If anything, I doubt even those who are qualified would even know about it. At best it excuses a bunch of would-be elite law school students who would’ve crushed the LSAT anyway.

(2)  Death to the full-time faculty calculation!

Interpretations 402-1 and 402-2, which set out the convoluted rules for calculating full-time-equivalent faculty has been crossed out. No longer shall full-time legal writing instructors be treated as seven-tenths of a full-time teacher.

(3)  Goodbye dusty reporters in the library…

Standard 606 and Interpretation 606-2 have added the language “reliable access” to describe the “core collection” law school libraries must provide their students. “Reliable access” can include subscription and publicly available databases as well as “formal resource-sharing arrangements.” Anyone talking about onerous library requirements will have nothing to complain about now. (Okay, maybe less.)

(4)  …And hello office-sharing for professors.

Yup, Standard 702(3) (now 702(4)) has been modified from “an office for each full-time faculty member” to “office space for full-time faculty members.” Now deans can retaliate against petulant faculty by making them share offices with their ill-mannered colleagues.

(5)  No more taxation without documentation.

The new Standard 202(b) requires law schools that are attached to parent universities to obtain an annual “accounting and explanation for all charges and costs assessed against resources generated by the law school and for any use of resources generated by the law school to support non-law school activities and central university services.” Those of you with longish memories remember in 2011 when the University of Baltimore ousted its law school’s dean, Phillip Closius, allegedly for disclosing that the parent university confiscated all but $81,000 out of a $1.4 million tuition hike. After the ABA’s regular inspection, it asked for (read: demanded) such an accounting by the parent university. If this standard goes into effect—and this one absolutely certainly will—a lot of universities will have to confess the extent to which they’ve been looting their law schools. This might lead to more awkward conversations between ABA accreditors and university administrators. Who knows, maybe students will get more of their money’s worth or even a tuition cut?

(6)  Dishonor before death?

In a cryptic pair of new standards, 202(c) and 202(d), law schools will be deemed not in compliance with the standards if their “current financial conditions” and even their “anticipated financial conditions” (whatever that means) has—or is reasonably expected to have—”a negative and material effect on the law school’s ability to operate in compliance with the standards or to carry out its program of legal education.” 202(c) is a modified version of Interpretation 201-1, but 202(d), the “anticipated financial condition” appears new but ported from the original 201(a).

I’m not sure what conditions would trigger a non-compliance situation due to anticipated financial problems, or its consequences, so I don’t know what this means or how it’d be enforced. I include it because law schools are in tough times, so I can imagine a central university shutting down its law school if it reasonably believes it won’t be in compliance with the standards in the future. I seriously doubt a law school would lose its accreditation due to anticipated financial reasons before being shut down.

This concludes the listicle. Take care folks.


One comment

  1. I can’t help but wonder if the new financial conditions language is intended to provide law faculty with a stick they can threaten their administrations with when a school attempts to invoke “financial exigency” to lay off faculty members or offer semi-voluntary buy-outs.

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