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ABA Proposes Greater Course Uniformity Across Law Schools. Many Deans Opposed.

By Melanie Rauch, JD | Last updated on

Some law school deans are pushing back against the American Bar Association's (ABA) latest educational standards proposal. More than a third of U.S. law school deans have voiced their opposition to proposed standards that aim to introduce greater uniformity across law school courses. These deans argue that the ABA's call for standardized learning outcomes could undermine the autonomy of legal educators and the diversity of legal education.

Overview of the ABA Proposal

The ABA released a second proposal regarding uniform standards in March, attempting to compromise after its initial proposal in August met with negative reception. However, the changes were minor, and law school deans have issued similar critiques against the revised proposal. The revised proposal targets the "students learning outcomes" section of its accreditation standards. The proposal emphasizes the need for law schools to adopt specific learning goals for each course and ensure alignment in multi-section courses like contracts or torts. Furthermore, it introduces an early assessment requirement in first-year (1L) classes to give students feedback before their final exams. The intention is to equip law students with consistent foundational knowledge and professional skills crucial for their future legal careers.

Law Deans' Reaction Mixed

Leading the opposition, deans from prestigious institutions such as Vanderbilt University, New York University, Georgetown, and the University of Michigan, among others, have collectively penned a public comment critiquing the proposal. They express concerns over what they perceive as the ABA's excessive micromanagement, which could potentially harm legal education by restricting teachers' freedom to design their courses according to dynamic legal concepts and varying student needs. The deans' critique emphasizes the risk of stifling creative education and the burden of increased administrative tasks to continually revise course offerings. They believe that law schools should get to determine what is the focus of legal education and not necessarily the ABA.

While the proposal has met substantial resistance from some law school deans, it has garnered support from other quarters of the legal education community. Proponents argue that standardizing certain aspects of the curriculum will ensure students receive uniform and thorough educational foundations, which can be particularly beneficial for professors teaching advanced courses. Supporters include former ABA legal education administrator Barry Currier and a group of law professors involved in an ABA committee on student outcomes and assessment.

Anticipated Outcomes

The ABA's legal education council is set to consider the proposal at its next meeting on May 17, 2024. With the public comment period now closed, the council will review feedback from both supporters and detractors. The decision could have lasting implications on the structure of law education in the U.S., impacting how law schools operate and how effectively they can adapt their programs to meet the needs of a diverse student body and the evolving demands of the legal profession.

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