I have just begun Unit 5 (of 10) of the last course I am required to complete to earn my Bachelor of Science degree in Legal Studies. This course is called the Capstone Course, and it involves writing a 25-30 page paper on a legal topic of my choosing. I’ve chosen to write about legal education in the U.S. – specifically about the American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation system and its effect not only upon legal education, but the legal system and society.
It’s taken me several weeks to come to a point where I’m actually caught up with my assignments; I took a leave of absence from school last semester, anticipating surgery in mid-August with ample time to recover before the current semester began November 7th. Well, my surgery ended up being scheduled for October 29th, and I still thought to myself “no problem” – boy, was I wrong! My mind simply did not want to function for what seemed an eternity, and I was really beginning to believe that I had been swallowed by a black hole from which there was no escape. I expected physical recovery from surgery to take some time; I did not expect that I would need time for mental recovery as well!
Fortunately, I have a professor who has been very patient in allowing me extra time to complete my assignments, and as of last night I am completely caught up! Thus far, I have submitted a Proposal for my Capstone Project as well as an Annotated Bibliography and an Outline. Now I am ready to move forward with writing a rough draft.
I have begun a blog to keep track of my progress with The Capstone Project, if you’d like to check it out and maybe follow along.
Below is the Proposal I submitted – I received 101 of 105 points for it. The only comment the professor made was “you need to work on your APA citations format”. Apparently there was nothing else to deduct points for, and for that I am grateful!
Examining ABA Law School Accreditation
A century ago, few states required formal legal education of any kind for admission to the bar. In fact, some of the greatest Supreme Court Justices did not even graduate from law school. Most states in the U.S. now require that law students graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) to take the state bar exam and become a licensed attorney; graduates of law schools which are not accredited by the ABA are not allowed by most states to sit for the bar exam and become licensed attorneys. The ABA accreditation system has led to an increasingly costly track to becoming a lawyer, with the end result being a legal system which is unaffordable for a majority of the U.S. population. ABA accreditation should be irrelevant to the education of an attorney; what is relevant is the “outcome” of legal education and “measures that focus on what students actually take away from their educational experience and how it translates into actual legal skills as they enter practice” (Podger, 2009).
“ABA accreditation is not relevant to a credible legal education or legal practice.”
Purpose and relevance of your study to the legal field and profession
The American Bar Association was formed in 1878, concerning itself with “improving the competence of those entering the legal profession.” The ABA is not a government or state actor, but in practical reality it exercises extensive authority over the nature of legal education and derivatively the provision of legal services (Kmiec, 2007). In 1921 the ABA developed its first Standards for Legal Education and began to publish a list of ABA-approved law schools that met its standards. Since 1952, the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (the Council) has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education as the recognized national agency for the accreditation of programs leading to the first professional law degree.
As the ABA became better organized it not only “prevailed upon state judiciaries and legislatures to effectively require a law degree as the price of admission, thus reducing competition — and increasing incomes –for subsequent generations of lawyers,” but has over the years added an accreditation process (McGinnis, 1996). This accreditation process has not even been run by government officials, but instead is run by the ABA itself. The legal profession, and thereby society, is burdened not only by the regulatory bureaucracy of the ABA, but by the complicity of the states’ requirement for graduation from ABA accredited law schools coupled with the requirement that students attend three years of an ABA accredited law school.
Who can benefit from your study and findings?
Most non-ABA law schools can provide an excellent legal education at a fraction of the cost of ABA law schools; increased competition from non ABA law schools would lead to decreased legal education costs. Neither the ABA accreditation system nor the requirement for graduation from an ABA accredited law school is beneficial to society. The ABA process has resulted from the lack of adequate competition, but rather than try to develop a competing accreditation method or agency, the U.S. legal system would most benefit from entirely disregarding reliance upon ABA law school accreditation.
What impact your study might have on the legal field
If states did not require graduation from ABA accredited schools as part of the licensure process for attorneys, the cost of legal education would be driven down and legal services would become more affordable for more members of society. In the legal services market, the system has substantially reduced the supply of lawyers and increased the price of legal services. The system has priced much of the poor and middle class out of the market for legal services, tilting our society’s playing field in favor of big business and the rich (Scholarly Restraints? ABA Accreditation and Legal Education).
Further, it is not in the minds of most people that it is elected judges who have required graduation from an ABA accredited law school in order to enter the legal profession. If the general public were aware of how the attorney licensure process actually works and thereby affects the cost and availability of legal services to that public, the focus of judicial-retention elections could change. If judges are not willing to address the needed reform in the attorney licensure process, they can be voted out and be replaced with judges who are more sympathetic to the needs of the public, especially the public who cannot currently afford legal services which are part of the system the judges oversee (Kmiec, 2007). Many more people could afford legal services if states did not require graduation from an ABA approved law school to take an exam or become a licensed attorney
What you hope to learn through conducting the study, both personally and professionally
Personally, I hope to learn how the legal education process could be reformed to include potential new schools that would offer cheaper, more-efficient legal education, as well as how such reforms could include many who have been excluded from the legal profession, particularly the poor and minorities. I hope to find support for my belief that state governments should eliminate graduation from an ABA-accredited law school as a requirement for obtaining a license to practice law, as well as to examine the role of the bar exam. I hope also to examine how the ABA system might be in violation of antitrust laws. I suspect the system could be viewed as a major antitrust issue, with abolition of the system the “simple” cure (Scholarly Restraints? ABA Accreditation and Legal Education).
I would like to understand the relationship between the cost of legal education and the cost of legal services, and how this relationship has, in effect, denied legal services to whole segments of our society. I hope to examine how the ABA system has reduced innovation in existing schools as well as how “entrepreneurial” law schools might experiment and innovate to develop programs that would provide a combination of instruction and apprenticeship, possibly becoming the equivalent of trade schools. (Scholarly Restraints? ABA Accreditation and Legal Education).
Professionally, I would like this study to hone my research and time management skills, as well as develop content for a blog which will become part of my eventual online portfolio. This study is for my last required course to obtain my Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies, and I am planning to begin a Master’s program in New Media Journalism in the spring of 2013. I have considered further legal study at Concord Law School, simply to learn more about law to pass on to the public, if not to actually practice law. This study will not only give me content for writing in the future, but will provide me with information to make informed and well-reasoned decisions about my own professional future.
Addressing the Justice Gap. (2011, August 23). Retrieved November 10, 2012, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/24/opinion/addressing-the-justice-gap.html?_r=4&hp
2011-2012 Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2012, from americanbar.org: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/standards.html.
Baker Jr., J. S. (2007, Spring). Seeking Competition in Law School Accreditation. Texas Review of Law & Politics, 11(2), 385-389.
Clifford, W., & Crandall, R. W. (2011, August 22). Time to Deregulate the Practice of Law. Wall Street Journal, 258(44), A13.
Henderson, W. D., & Morriss, A. P. (2008, April 16). What Law School Rankings Don’t Say About Costly Choices. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from lawjobs.com: http://www.lawjobs.com/newsandviews/LawArticle.jsp?id=1208256428026&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1
Kmiec, D. W. (2007, Spring). Law School Accreditation: Responsible Regulation or Barrier to Entry? Texas Review of Law & Politics, 11(2), 377-380.
Lore, M. (2007, September 3). Virtual law school grads can’t take the state’s bar exam. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from minnlawyer.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/25/education/virtual-jurisprudence-forget-socrates.html?pagewanted=4&src=pm
McGinnis, J. O. (1996, September 30). Legal monopoly: law schools are the beneficiary of the regulatory state, and they return the favor. National Review, 48(18), 42-46.
Morgan, T. D. (2007). It’s Not Perfect, but the ABA Does a Key Job in State-Based Regulation of Lawyers. Texas Review of Law & Politics, 11(2), 381-384.
Podger, J. (2009, November). Self-Study Program. ABA Journal, 95(11), 61-62.
Scholarly Restraints? ABA Accreditation and Legal Education. 19 Cardozo L. Rev. 2091, 2257+ (1998).