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ABA Restructuring Its Legal Ed Section

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 08, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The future of American legal education is, well, in the future.

At least, that's what the American Bar Association is saying for now. The ABA has approved a new Commission on the Future of Legal Education, but the commission will not be effective until August.

Incoming president Hilarie Bass called for the new commission to restructure the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. She said the new entity will be responsible only for non-accreditation-related activities.

"There has been an increasing drum beat, amplified by the Great Recession, about the need for change in our system of legal education," she said in a letter to the ABA's board of governors. "Low bar passage rates, excessive law student debt, the depressed job market for new lawyers, and the lack of value that employers place on the capabilities of recent law graduates are just some of the challenges that need to be addressed."

One Step Back

The Association of American Law Schools is not quite on board with the "future" commission. Daniel B. Rodriguez, chair of the Deans' Steering Committee, asked the ABA board to table discussions about the revamped section.

"We learned of these proposals only yesterday, and we have serious concerns about them," he wrote on Feb. 1, 2017. "Because law schools may be disproportionately affected by the proposed changes, we would like an opportunity for meaningful engagement and consultation so that we can share our ideas, concerns and perspectives."

The proposals include a 10-person commission, staffed by appointees to serve staggered three-year terms. The commission would take over non-accreditation-related conferences, programs, publications and committees in the Section of Legal Education and Admissions. The "admissions" section would continue its work with deans workshops and assistant deans workshops, which deal with accreditation issues.

One Step Forward

If approved, non-accreditation activity funds would go to the new commission after it becomes operational. In the meantime, details are expected to be worked out when the section's council meets in March.

"Since I have already committed to meet with the council in March, we agreed to defer the discussion on the details and logistics regarding the section's roles and responsibilities," Bass said.

She said the new commission is "an important step forward in recognizing the ABA's critical role in speaking out on behalf of the legal profession in connection with the future of legal education."

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