American Bar Association
Law School Accreditation Task Force
The Task Force on Law School Accreditation was created by the Board of Governors of
the American Bar Association in August, 2008, in response to Board discussions about
the structure of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar within the
American Bar Association, including the Law School Accreditation Project. The Council
of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (―Council‖) and its
Accreditation Committee are recognized by the United States Department of Education
(―DOE‖) as the accrediting authority for law schools.
Although DOE requires the Accreditation Project to remain separate and independent
from the parent American Bar Association, certain contacts are inevitable and necessary.
The Board of Governors approves the budget for the entire Association, including the
Section and the Accreditation Project. The Fund for Justice and Education provides funds
generated by the American Bar Endowment to underwrite a portion of the funding for the
Accreditation Project. The House of Delegates considers amendments to the Standards
and Rules of Procedures for Approval of Law Schools (―Standards‖), which it may
affirm, although its authority is limited to concurring or returning matters to the Section
for reconsideration before the Section decision is enacted. A law school that is denied
provisional or full approval by the Council may appeal to the House. Finally, the Section
itself engages in a variety of legal education activities that are not related to accreditation.
There exists considerable synergy between the accreditation and non-accreditation
When the Task Force was created, the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors
approved the following jurisdictional statement to guide its activities (footnotes omitted):
The Task Force shall examine the implications of the Section’s role as the
federally recognized accreditor of law schools and its relationship to the
American Bar Association. Although several prior Board of Governors reports
over the last thirty years have addressed these subjects, these prior reports
preceded the restructuring of the Section’s relationship to the ABA in 2000 to
comply with the requirement of the Department of Education that the Section’s
accrediting function be ―separate and independent‖ from the American Bar
Association. The Committee shall, inter alia, consider whether (and, if so, how)
the restructuring of the Section’s relationship to the ABA affects the conclusions
that were reached in the prior reports.
In examining these Section responsibilities, the Task Force shall consider that
portion of the Section’s mission that calls for it to be ―… a creative national force
in providing leadership and services to those responsible for and those who
benefit from a sound program of legal education and bar admissions.‖ A review
of the structure, functioning, staffing and budgeting of the Section in order to
carry out this part of its mission is within the mandate for the Task Force.
Recommending changes to the accreditation function is within the purview of the
Task Force as long as that review and those recommendations are consistent with
the ―separate and independent‖ requirements of the DOE regulations.
The Section has committed itself to the following statement of principles
regarding accreditation in the Preamble to the Standards for Approval of Law
The Standards for Approval of Law Schools of the American Bar
Association are founded primarily on the fact that law schools are the
gateway to the legal profession. They are minimum requirements
designed, developed, and implemented for the purpose of advancing the
basic goal of providing a sound program of legal education.
The graduates of approved law schools can become members of the bar in
all United States jurisdictions, representing all members of the public in
important interests. Therefore, an approved law school must provide an
opportunity for its students to study in a diverse educational environment,
and in order to protect the interests of the public, law students, and the
profession, it must provide an educational program that ensures that its
(1) understand their ethical responsibilities as representatives of clients,
officers of the courts, and public citizens responsible for the quality
and availability of justice;
(2) receive basic education through a curriculum that develops:
(i) understanding of the theory, philosophy, role, and ramifications
of the law and its institutions;
(ii) skills of legal analysis, reasoning, and problem solving; oral
and written communication; legal research; and other
fundamental skills necessary to participate effectively in the legal
(iii) understanding of the basic principles of public and private
(3) understanding the law as a public profession calling for performance
of pro bono legal services.
This statement of principles shall inform the work of the Task Force.
ABA Presidents Bill Neukom (2007-08) and Tommy Wells (2008-09) collaborated on
the appointment of the Task Force, and appointed seventeen members (see, Task Force
Roster, Appendix A). Sandy D’Alemberte, former ABA President, Legal Education
Section Chair, law school dean and Florida State University President, was chosen to
serve as Chair.
This Report is the product of multiple Task Force meetings and other communications, as
well as feedback from many other individuals in legal education, the bar and the
judiciary. Part II of this Report examines the background and history of the structure of
the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar within the organization and
governance of the American Bar Association. Part III presents the various options
considered by the Task Force for restructuring the Section in order to strengthen both
accreditation and non-accreditation functions. Part IV takes a closer look at the agenda
for legal education in order to assess what management and governance structure best
serves the strategic objectives of the Section within the ABA. Part V discusses the
Section’s strategic agenda for the future for both accreditation and other legal education
activities. In Part VI, the Task Force urges the adoption of a specific set of
recommendations by the Board of Governors and the Section Council. Part VII concludes
with the expectation that if the Board and Council approve these recommendations, the
prospects for strengthening the relationship between the ABA Board and the Section will
improve considerably, resulting in a strong Accreditation Project working synergistically
within a more vibrant Section of Legal Education.
II. Organizational Structure of Section within the ABA
The ABA was founded in 1878 at a gathering of one hundred lawyers from twenty-one
state bar associations in Saratoga Springs, New York. Among the reasons for this
meeting were concerns about the image of the legal profession, the need for establishing
a code of professional conduct, and efforts to regulate the quality of legal education in the
United States. Over 130 years later, these goals remain central to the ABA.
In 1893, the ABA created its first section, what was then called the Committee on Legal
Education. By 1921, the Legal Education Committee recommended to the ABA
Executive Committee (precursor to the present Board of Governors) the establishment of
minimum standards for law schools, and a process for reviewing law schools’ adherence
to these standards. By 1927, it became necessary to hire an Advisor to the Legal
Education Committee, because the work of reviewing law schools became too
burdensome to be managed by volunteers. The position of Advisor was renamed the
Consultant on Legal Education in 1968. Since its inception in 1927, six individuals have
held the position of advisor/consultant. See Appendix B.
In 1952, the United States government undertook to certify accrediting agencies for
educational programs, and from the outset, the Council of the Section of Legal Education
has been the designated accrediting agency for law schools. Oversight of the bar
admission process resides in the highest court in most states. Every American jurisdiction
permits graduates of law schools approved by the Council (often referred to as ―ABA-
Approved‖ law schools) to sit for the bar exam, and most states restrict the right to take
the bar examination to graduates of ABA-Approved law schools. Eight jurisdictions
allow graduates of law schools approved by that state to take the bar examination. In
most cases, however, these graduates are ineligible to take the bar in any other
The Council works closely with the Conference of Chief Justices, the National
Conference of Bar Examiners, the Association of American Law Schools, the Law
School Admissions Council, and other stakeholders in legal education to assure that the
process for setting standards and making accreditation decisions is both transparent and
fair. The Council is comprised of academics, practitioners, judges and public members,
and the position of Council Chair rotates among the judges, practitioners and academics
every three years. The Section By-Laws provide that at no time may a majority (i.e.,
more than 10 of 21 members).of the Council come from the academy.
Responsibility for certification of educational accreditation rests with DOE, and the
Council and Accreditation Committee are subject to periodic review and re-certification.
The Council has been under review since 2007, but that process was put on hold by
amendments in the 2008 Higher Education Act, as well as a change of administrations in
2009. The existing structure of the Section, Council and Accreditation Project has
involved communication and cooperation with DOE. Policies effectuating this structure
have been adopted by the Council after debate, and ratified by the ABA House of
Delegates. Collectively, these interactions have assured that the accreditation process
meets DOE criteria for re-certification.
DOE recognition criteria require that the Section have complete autonomy in making
accreditation decisions, in determining the budget for the Accreditation Project, and in
hiring and firing of staff. DOE regulations require that there will be no involvement by
the ABA in accreditation decisions, Accreditation Committee or Council meetings (that
implicate accreditation), Standards development, or accreditation policy setting. The
ABA is not permitted to have access to any confidential information, such as which
schools are on report, for what reasons, or for how long.
The ABA and the Section have been very attentive to these requirements and have
established policies and procedures to insure compliance. Since the Section was re-
recognized by the DOE in 2000-2001, the Department has expressed no concern about
the ―separate and independent‖ requirements; in the recent round of review and hearings,
this issue has not been raised as a concern. The following considerations reflect the
―separate and independent‖ requirements of the DOE and describe the present
relationship between and among the Section, Council, and ABA:
First, law school approval is nested within the Section and its Accreditation Project.
Accreditation is administered through the Consultant’s Office by the Accreditation
Committee. A separate Standards Review Committee reviews, seeks comments on
and recommends changes in the Standards to the Council as appropriate. Decisions of
the Council regarding the Standards are concurred in by the ABA’s House of
Delegates, but the House may not overrule the Council, only return a matter to the
Council for reconsideration. Like the Council, the Accreditation Committee,
Standards Review Committee, and law school inspection teams include judges,
practitioners and academics, as well as ethnic and gender diversity.
Second, DOE recognition criteria provide that accrediting agencies must fund
accreditation activities at an adequate level. The Accreditation Project relies on the
ABA for funding in order to meet this obligation. From its earliest involvement in law
school accreditation, the ABA has funded a portion of the costs of the process. Over
the years, the Council has reduced the percentage of funding from the ABA by
charging law schools annual service fees for accreditation inspections, law school
data and other accreditation-related services. In 1997, DOE expressed concern that
financial considerations were a threat to the separate and independent status of the
Accreditation Project, and determined that no portion of ABA funding could come
from member dues (either to the ABA or the Section). In response, the ABA agreed
to fund the accreditation project with a grant from the American Bar Endowment
through the Fund for Justice and Education, because the FJE funds go to qualified
activities under IRS Section 501(c)(3). None of the FJE allocation derives from
personal contributions to FJE.
Third, even after creating the FJE funding mechanism, fluctuations in the number of
law school inspections meant that Accreditation Project expenses varied from year to
year, which kept the Board of Governors involved in accreditation financing. In 2003,
the Board created a Reserve Fund for the Accreditation Project where excess funds
from one year (when expenses were low) could be carried over to the next year (when
expenses were higher). In August 2009, the Board of Governors removed the
$400,000 cap on the Accreditation Project Reserve Fund, which will allow for more
reliable planning of fluctuating costs associated with accreditation activities.
Fourth, the Council created a Strategic Planning Committee, which developed a five-
year strategic plan that was adopted by the Council in 2006. See Appendix C. The
plan called for greater funding for the Accreditation Project, and separation of those
Section activities that are not related to accreditation. This theme was continued by
the Section Finance Committee, which in 2009 recommended a three-year growth
plan with separation of legal education and accreditation functions. See Appendix D.
The Board of Governors and the Section Council have struggled at times with the
responsibility of managing the accreditation process. These two bodies have not always
seen eye-to-eye. This tension may be tracked over the course of the past century of
accreditation, through a number of committees, task forces and reviews. See, e.g.,
The Task Force identified seven options, which had been recommended as theoretically
feasible for structuring the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and the
Section’s Accreditation Project. These included: 1) maintaining the status quo; 2)
providing enhanced resources for non-accreditation Section activities, while establishing
more precise internal separation between accreditation and other Section activities (what
the Task Force called the ―Enhanced Section‖ option); 3) retaining a relationship between
the Council and the Accreditation Project, but moving the Consultant’s Office to a
physically separate location (returning to the ―Jim White‖ model); 4) bifurcating the legal
education/bar admission and accreditation functions, by creating a new entity (a standing
committee or commission) to handle accreditation; 5) creating an overarching Legal
Education Center within the ABA that would include the Section of Legal Education and
Admissions to the Bar, the Accreditation Project, the Law Student Division, the Standing
Committees on Specialization and Paralegals, the Center for Continuing Legal Education,
and possibly other groups yet to be identified; 6) abandon accreditation activities; and 7)
continue to engage in accreditation, but drop Department of Education recognition.
After considerable discussion of all these concepts, the Task Force concluded that option
two, the Enhanced Section option, represents the best alternative for protecting the
independence of the accreditation process, building stronger programs and services
related to legal education and admission to the bar, and furthering the historically
constructive relationship to the ABA. These options are discussed below.
A. Status Quo
Continuing to do what we have been doing has a certain facial appeal, because it is easy.
Maintaining the status quo involves no new resources, no new opportunity costs, no
political capital invested in changing something that many of those active in the Section
believe does not need fixing. The status quo approach does not suggest that the Section
and accreditation process cannot be improved. Rather, it contemplates organic change
within the existing structure and places stewardship for growing the Section in the hands
of the Council. Some observers note that it has been difficult to initiate new legal
education programs, because management of the Accreditation Project can be all-
consuming for the Section. Yet, over the course of the last three years, the Section
Council has adopted a strategic plan for building a more robust Section, and the Section’s
Finance Committee has worked to re-structure the Section’s budget and seek new sources
of revenue from expanded lawyer membership, non-dues revenue, and grants in order to
have the resources to expand the Section’s agenda.
B. Enhanced Section
Although the Enhanced Section option includes the advantages associated with the Status
Quo approach, it contemplates an investment of additional resources from the ABA and
other sources to support a more ambitious agenda. On the negative side, it is always
difficult to budget resources for new and expanded programs in an association where
giving more to one group often means taking something away from others. Especially in
times of economic crisis, putting money into new programs may not be feasible.
Although this Report discusses at length the tendency of the Accreditation Project to
dominate the work of the Section, the Task Force found that the Section carries out a
variety of different legal education activities not associated with the Accreditation
Project. The Section has an active and involved committee system, supported informally
by the law schools, courts and law firms where the committee members work. Indeed, it
makes more sense to build upon the strengths of the existing model than to throw away
the present structure and replace it with something else that may or may not work as well.
To the extent that any of the alternatives contemplate additional resources, the problem is
no different, so proponents of the Enhanced Section option argue that if the ABA sees the
value of continuing its current accreditation activities and plans to invest in legal
education anyway, it should preserve and build on the strengths of the existing model
rather than engage in the more costly approach of putting money into startup costs for
Section leadership and staff are working to secure additional general revenue funds to
give the Section the same level of general fund support as other Sections, to protect
Section reserves, and communicate to members of the Board Program, Evaluation and
Planning Committee and Finance Committees of the critical need to provide budgetary
resources to fund a more robust legal education function.
C. Physical Separation of Consultant
Prior to the appointment of John Sebert as Consultant on Legal Education in 2000, the
ABA had retained a consultant (James P. White) who operated accreditation activities
from a law school home base school, which was physically separated from the ABA
headquarters in Chicago. Although it is not clear exactly when it occurred, at some point
in the history of the Section, a Chicago staff director headed the Section’s non-
accreditation activities. When the Consultant’s office was moved to Chicago, however,
the Consultant assumed oversight for both the Accreditation Project and other activities
under the auspices of the Section Council. The idea of returning the Consultant’s office to
a site separate from the ABA is based upon the notion that it would be easier to sustain
separate and independent activities if accreditation and other Section functions were
The approach appears to have worked well during the Jim White era, and for the future
such an approach might expand the pool of potential Consultants by not limiting
consideration to individuals willing to relocate to Chicago. On the other hand, when the
Consultant is not under the roof of the ABA, s/he may not be attuned to elements of the
internal culture and lines of authority in the Association. While this may support the
separate and independent principle, it may also tend to isolate Legal Education from the
mainstream of ABA activities not related to accreditation. The costs associated with
moving back to the external Consultant model would be significant, and these costs
would be repeated each time a new Consultant was selected.
D. Bifurcation of Accreditation and Education
It has also been suggested that the ABA should bifurcate the Accreditation function from
other Legal Education Section activities in a more formal way, by creating a separate
entity, e.g., a standing committee, tasked with responsibility for carrying out law school
accreditation. This approach would leave the Section responsible for all non-accreditation
activities related to legal education and admissions to the bar. The new accreditation
entity would operate independently from the Section, and would vest appointment of
accreditors in the incoming ABA President. Such an arrangement would arguably
function more like the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary or the ABA Journal
Board of Editors, than the current Accreditation Committee does within the Section.
However, creation of a new entity to oversee accreditation would require substantial
funds to underwrite the establishment of a new accreditation office, to fund a new
oversight committee, and to educate law schools and the public about how the new
system would work. Such a model would create serious concerns regarding the separate
and independent status of the Accreditation Project.
The structural changes necessary to create a new entity to handle accreditation would
require amendments to the ABA Constitution and By-Laws, which might trigger
controversy in the Board of Governors and House of Delegates. The most significant
negative aspect of a bifurcated system would be the loss of synergistic leverage that
occurs under the present structure. As an example, the Deans’ workshops now address
both accreditation and other legal education issues, and site visitors are often drawn from
Deans’ workshops and other programs. Section staff can often create operational
efficiencies by consolidating activities, developing work product that can be utilized in
both the Accreditation Project and other Section activities. Critics of the bifurcated
approach suggested that whatever positive benefits might accrue to such a system, the
risks and liabilities are much greater.
E. ABA Education Center
One idea that was presented to the Task Force was creation of a Legal Education Center
within the ABA. The notion would be to place all the ABA entities involved with legal
education issues—the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the
Accreditation Project, the Law Student Division, the Standing Committees on
Specialization and Paralegals, the Center for Continuing Legal Education, to name the
most obvious—in a single Center. This approach has the benefit of bringing together all
the stakeholders in legal education, in the same way that the Center for Professional
Responsibility has provided coordination for the professional responsibility field.
It is worth noting that establishment of a Center is not inconsistent with any of the
previous four models. Such re-structuring would undoubtedly generate transition costs
and trigger resistance to such change, and the Task Force generally felt that unless there
were specific advantages to be gained from such an organizational re-alignment, change
for the sake of change made little sense. Certainly, the Section of Legal Education
already reach can out to other groups within the ABA to offer joint programs, to share
information and to support mutual objectives. A new and separate Center for Legal
Education is not necessary to accomplish those goals, and does not address the other
underlying problems discussed in this Report.
F. Abandon the Accreditation Function
One of the more draconian possibilities mentioned was the suggestion that the ABA give
up the accreditation function altogether. The ABA has engaged in the approval of law
schools since early in the twentieth century, and the Section of Legal Education and
Admission to the Bar was created as the ABA’s first section in large part to articulate
standards, evaluate law schools, and recommend approval of schools that met the
Elimination of such a longstanding activity would be viewed by many as the abrogation
of a core ABA function. Moreover, the question remains, if not the ABA, then who?
Would some other organization, such as the Association of American Law Schools or the
Federalist Society, or regional college accrediting agencies want to assume this role? If
no organization could be found, would legal education devolve into a deregulated
marketplace? Would this be good for legal education, the profession, or the public who
consume legal services?
Although elimination of the law school accreditation function would save the ABA
substantial money and eliminate the now persistent risk of litigation instituted by schools
unhappy about accreditation decisions, Task Force members concluded that the ABA is,
and is likely to remain, the best agency to handle law school accreditation and to assure
the quality of legal education in the United States. For these reasons, this option was not
considered realistic or viable.
G. Drop Department of Education Recognition
The last idea discussed by the Task Force was to remain an accrediting organization for
law schools, but not seek DOE recognition as the official agency for the approval of law
schools offering the J.D. degree. If the ABA did not have to answer to DOE, it is
arguable that it would not have to worry about questions like ―separate and independent‖
or justifying the Section’s diversity standard. The ABA could establish an approval
process unfettered by government regulation.
However, this approach presents a number of serious risks. As one Task Force member
suggested, if the Council lost the imprimatur of DOE certification, state supreme courts
that give weight to graduation from an ABA-Approved law school in the bar admission
process might give less weight to ABA approval, and become more willing to permit
graduates of non-ABA schools to take the bar. Additionally, if the ABA withdrew as the
accrediting agency for legal education, DOE could recognize a replacement agency.
Finally, there are currently 20 independent ABA-approved law schools that rely upon the
Section’s accreditation for their students’ access to Title IV federal loans. In short,
although DOE recognition adds a layer of responsibility to the work of the Section, the
pragmatic reality is that the ABA needs to continue its certification as accrediting agency,
just as the law schools continue to need ABA approval. For these reasons, the Task Force
believed that it is important to maintain DOE recognition of its role in the accreditation
process for the foreseeable future.
H. Task Force Consensus
Each option presents its own pros and cons, its own costs and risks. After considering all
these options, the members of the Task Force reached consensus that Option 2 (Enhanced
Section) is the best choice. The Enhanced Section option maintains aspects of the current
model that are working well, and infuses additional resources into the Section to
strengthen programs not related to the accreditation process. Of all the options, this
choice offers the greatest possibility for building a robust Section of Legal Education and
Admissions to the Bar by improving legal education functions at a reasonable cost,
sustaining the benefits of the accreditation process, and integrating the Section
comfortably within the framework of ABA governance.
Part IV of this report addresses how the Section might be enhanced in light of its
Mission, Strategic Plan, and ongoing activities. The purpose of this Report is not to tell
the Section how to carry out its Goals and Objectives, but rather to make sure that the
Section and its Accreditation Project can thrive and grow within the ABA. The
recommendations in Part V focus on the Section resources necessary to build an
enhanced Section, as well as how to maintain effective communications with the Board
of Governors and other interested ABA entities.
The Enhanced Section approach requires the least investment in infrastructure and
allocates the greatest investment in content and outcomes of all the alternatives. In a
rapidly changing society, both the accreditation process and ABA programming in the
field of legal education and admissions to the bar need to be vibrant, forward thinking
and dynamic. The Enhanced Section option is consistent with the strategic vision that the
Section and its Council have already articulated, but it also recognizes that additional
resources are needed in order to attain this vision.
All the other options raise serious questions and pose significant risks that outweigh
whatever benefits they might deliver. The Status Quo option failed to garner support,
primarily because the Task Force recognizes that the Status Quo is not a place where
either the ABA or the Section desires to stay. Section leaders, Board members and ABA
senior staff all articulated a view that change is in order. The third option (Status Quo
with Physical Separation of the Consultant) was not selected, because the Task Force
believes that the synergies achieved by maintaining the Consultant’s Office physically
within the ABA outweigh any possible benefits of separation. If the question only
involved the Accreditation Project, the answer might be different, but the Section is
clearly more than the Accreditation Project.
The option of Bifurcation of Accreditation and Education was rejected, because the Task
Force concluded that it is more logical to include both law school approval and legal
education under one roof than to create parallel entities. Creating a Center for Legal
Education is problematic, because nesting the Section of Legal Education within a larger
organization could undermine the ongoing work of the Section, and could threaten the
separate and independent status of the Accreditation Process. Both options 3 and 4 suffer
from the flaw that they assume that it is the structure and not the availability of resources
that needs fixing. The Task Force found just the opposite – the existing Section already
has a clear vision for both accreditation and non-accreditation activities, an active and
committed leadership, a solid membership base to support volunteer activities, and a
variety of programs and services that serve members effectively. What it lacks is a
financial base to carry out its vision.
Options 6 and 7 (Abandon Accreditation and Drop Department of Education recognition)
were both untenable and inconsistent with the ABA’s Goal II, Objective 1, ―Promote the
highest quality of legal education.‖ The ABA has been involved in the approval of law
schools throughout most of its history, and today, the Department of Education is a
partner in that process.
IV. An Agenda for Legal Education
The Task Force decision to recommend the Enhanced Section option reflects an
assessment of the existing programs and resources of the Section in light of the Section’s
own strategic agenda and the Task Force members’ assessment of the situation. The
following discussion provides a more detailed model of what an Enhanced Section of
Legal Education might look like, but in the end it is the responsibility of Section
leadership to implement the plan. The Board of Governors is in a position to support the
work of the Section within the constraints of the separate and independent requirement
for the Accreditation Project. The need to assure the independence of the Accreditation
Project does not mean, however, that the Section cannot communicate with other entities
within the ABA, or participate in the governance of the Association as appropriate.
A. Mission Statement of Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
The Mission of the American Bar Association includes four Goals with a number of
objectives under each. Goal II is to ―Improve our profession,‖ and the first objective
under the Goal is to ―[p]romote the highest quality of legal education.‖
The Mission Statement of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
tracks the ABA’s mission statement by stating that the Section’s Mission is:
To be a creative national force in providing leadership and services to those
responsible for and those who benefit from a sound program of legal education and
To provide a fair, effective, and efficient accrediting system for American law
schools that promotes quality legal education and to continue to serve, through its
Council, as a nationally recognized accrediting body for American law schools.
This Statement identifies and acknowledges the dual role of the Section – to provide
leadership on legal education issues and to maintain the federally-recognized
accreditation function. Even though the goals are complementary and both relate directly
to legal education, they call for very different organizational and operational responses
from the Section leadership and the Consultant’s Office. Mostly this distinction is driven
by the regulations and recognition criteria of the DOE, with which the Section must
comply in order to retain recognition (accreditation) authority for the award of the J. D.
degree in the United States. Those regulations require that the accreditation project of the
Section be ―separate and independent‖ from the ABA.
The Section By-Laws, as approved by the both the ABA House of Delegates and the
DOE, create an organizational structure that complies with DOE requirements, while also
satisfying ABA governance requirements. As a result of this dual responsibility, the
Section’s operational functionality, and allocation of staff and committee activities
between the two functions, can be complex and thus confusing to the outside observer.
In terms of staff time and activities, approximately 80 percent of the Section’s 13.5 staff
members’ time in total is devoted to the Accreditation Project and 82.8 percent
($2,837,214 of $3,425,219 in FY 2007) of the Section’s overall budget is devoted to the
Accreditation Project. Additionally, over 80 percent of the total Council time is devoted
to accreditation matters, whereas all of the Accreditation Committee’s efforts are devoted
B. Organizational Issues
Currently the Section of Legal Education performs a number of section activities, which
include conducting multiple conferences and publishing a variety of publications.
Although many Section activities may be characterized as exclusively related to
accreditation or not, other education, publication and training activities include both
accreditation and non-accreditation elements, and are conducted jointly between the
Section and the Accreditation Project.
The leadership of the Section and its Council operate the Accreditation Project through
three Committees that perform accreditation functions. They are the Accreditation,
Standards Review and Questionnaire Committees.
The Section Council must balance its responsibilities to the Accreditation Project and to
the other non-accreditation activities of the Section. Council meetings are held five times
each year, generally for two days, and these meetings are divided between an
accreditation agenda and a Section agenda. When the Council meets to consider the
approval of law schools, based on reports of the Accreditation Committee, the sessions
are closed. More general legal education matters are discussed in open meetings of the
Council. Section Committees frequently meet separately from the Council in order to
carry out their responsibilities.
As of June 30, 2009, the Section had 10,069 lawyer members (of which 9,526 are from
the faculty program), 1,061 associate members, and 2,159 law students, for a total of
13,289. The Section in large part because of its institutional membership program has the
highest core membership percentage (90%) of any ABA section or division. Virtually
every section and division of the ABA has some law school deans, professors, and
administrators who participate in the activities of those sections. Many ABA standing
committees, special committees, commissions and task forces include academic
A number of academics serve in the House of Delegates, including Task Force member
Professor Steve Saltzburg. Additionally, Professor Gary Munneke served as the Board of
Governors Liaison to the Section from 2006-2009, followed by Professor Amy Boss from
2009-2012. Professor Peter Winograd has been nominated by the Council to serve as a
Section Delegate-at-Large on the Board of Governors from 2010-2013.
The ABA Standing Committee on Membership, as part of a project called the Segment
Value Initiative (―SVI‖), conducted an assessment of the law school and legal educator
membership segment. See Appendix F. The SVI recognizes that, although a high
percentage of legal academics are members of the ABA, there is often not a comfortable
fit between their needs or expectations and the ABA’s record of delivering value to these
members. The SVI analysis suggests that this dissonance creates opportunities for both
the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and other ABA entities to
integrate academic lawyers into the mainstream work of the Association.
The Task Force agrees that the Section is well-positioned to create a home for individuals
and organizations with interests related to legal education, as well as to deliver greater
membership value through enhanced programs and activities. These individuals and
Academic lawyers who participate in other ABA entities: Most if not all substantive
ABA entities include as members, and in many cases leaders, law school professors
and administrators interested in the work of those groups;
ABA entities that have an interest in legal education issues, as well as entities whose
activities are likely to have an impact on the Section;
The American Bar Foundation, both because many academic lawyers are Fellows and
because the Foundation’s research agenda often impacts legal education. In some
cases, the Section may want to initiate research projects of particular value to legal
Professional organizations with missions within the penumbra of legal education:
o Association of American Law Schools,
o Law School Admission Council,
o National Association for Law Placement,
o Pre-Law Advisors National Council,
o Clinical Legal Education Association,
o Association of Continuing Legal Education Administrators,
o National Association of Bar Executives,
o National Institute for Trial Advocacy,
o Conference of Chief Justices,
o National Conference of Bar Examiners,
o American Association of Law Librarians;
Law school adjunct professors, a group not really served by AALS, but frequently
active in ABA: The numbers are unclear, but if law schools have 50-100 adjuncts,
and there are 200 law schools, this group of lawyers could be 10-20,000 strong;
Undergraduate professors who teach legal studies, business law, and other related
Foreign law professors and scholars interested in the American legal education
Law students: Although the Law Student Division serves as an umbrella for ABA
student members, many law students are also student members of the Legal
Education Section. Law students, like legal educators, are stakeholders in the legal
education system. As mentors, law professors have an opportunity to influence law
students to participate in bar associations like the ABA, and to contribute to
discussions about legal education generally;
Board of Visitors members, university presidents, provosts, counsel: Despite the fact
that most of these individuals are not lawyers, they could benefit from education
about legal education, and some may become ABA associate members or public
members of the Council;
Professors in paralegal programs who teach legal skills parallel to those taught in law
Judges tend to have a direct interest in and commitment to professionalism and
competency issues. Judges have served actively on the Council in the past, so there is
no reason to think we could not grow this cohort.
In short, there is a vast untapped reservoir of interest groups and individuals who would
welcome initiatives by the Section to deliver information, products, and contacts related
to legal education. This list is more illustrative than comprehensive, but it reflects the
broad base of potential members the Section could reach.
D. Accreditation Project Activities and Resources
Currently there are 200 accredited law schools. The accreditation function involves the
ongoing evaluation of law schools in a variety of ways. Primarily, law schools are
evaluated at regular intervals, generally on a seven year cycle, regarding their compliance
with the Standards. The evaluation involves a visit to the school by a team of five to
seven volunteers trained by the office of the Consultant on Legal Education, whose sole
purpose is to operate as fact finders.
A site team consists of a Chair and generally a law librarian, a law school clinician, a
judge or practicing lawyer, an administrator of a college or university, and a legal
educator designated by the American Association of Law Schools. The site inspection
team evaluates materials prepared by the law school and visits the school over three days.
Following the visit, the team submits a report which is then considered by the
Accreditation Committee. At no time does the site team make decisions regarding a
school’s compliance with the Standards.
The Accreditation Project includes all activities related to the role of the Council of the
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as the national accrediting agency,
recognized by DOE, for programs leading to the J.D. degree. Accreditation Project
Appointing and training volunteers to serve as site evaluators on teams preparing site
evaluation reports on programs of ABA-Approved law schools and schools seeking
Providing staff support to the Accreditation Committee and the Council of the
Section as they make decisions concerning the status of law schools and their
Supporting the Standards Review Committee and the Council as they promulgate the
Standards and Interpretations with which ABA-Approved law schools must comply;
Gathering and maintaining an informational database concerning ABA-Approved law
schools and their programs.
Training Site Chairs and Site Visitors: The training of Site Chairs typically involves
the 25 to 30 Chairs of Site Teams who will be visiting schools in the coming fall or
spring, and is held in early September for one day. The Site Visitors Workshop,
involving both first-time site team members and representatives of schools about to
be visited, is done annually in mid-November. In 2008 the Site Visitors Workshop
attracted 104 participants. These activities are entirely accreditation-related.
Questionnaire – The Section administers several electronic questionnaires to all
schools that are approved by the ABA.
Publications – From the Questionnaires, the Consultant’s Office produces ―statistical
takeoffs,‖ a compilation of the data provided by the schools. These reports are
offered by subscription to approved law schools. All but two ABA-Approved-law
schools subscribe and pay the associated fees. These data are not publicly available
and are related solely to the accreditation process.
The Section has 13.5 FTE staff. Each staff member performs some accreditation
functions (some as much as 100% of their time, but no staff member spends 100% of
his/her time on section activities). The attached organizational chart (see Appendix G)
identifies each staff person and how much time s/he devotes to accreditation activities;
for example, the Consultant on Legal Education estimates that he spends approximately
65% percent of his time on the accreditation project. Two staff members are full-time
accreditation and five others are 90% percent accreditation.
Since 1999/2000, 20 law schools have applied for provisional approval, and 17 have been
approved. As a result, today there are 200 approved law schools. The provisional
approval process is very demanding on the staff and the Accreditation Committee and
generally limits or prevents staff from undertaking new tasks and functions. The staff
knows of 10 new law schools in various stages of development, so this labor-intensive
workload will likely increase over the next few years. Simply maintaining the
Accreditation Project’s historical functions has grown more complex and time-
consuming for staff.
The overlap of staff functions between accreditation and non-accreditation functions may
be confusing at first blush, but the arrangement reflects the historical funding of all staff
positions by the Accreditation Project (at least since the Consultant’s Office was moved
to Chicago). Both the Strategic Plan and the Financial Plan of the Section seek to separate
the accreditation and non-accreditation responsibilities more precisely, but until
additional funding is provided, including ABA funding of non-accreditation staff
positions, this overlap is likely to continue.
Ideally, the Accreditation Project staff should be dedicated to accreditation work, and
Section staff dedicated to non-accreditation work. This is not to say that one staff
member (e.g., an IT manager) could not be funded in part by the Accreditation Project
and in part by the Section, but such a relationship should be clearly defined.
In addition to the professional staff, who administer the Accreditation Project, it is
supported by volunteer members who participate in every phase of the process.
Volunteers serve on accreditation inspection teams, develop policy proposals, and render
specific Accreditation Project decisions through participation on three Section
Committees - the Accreditation Committee, the Standards Review Committee, and the
The Accreditation Committee is made up of 19 members (nine law school academics, six
practicing lawyers, three university presidents or representatives, and one public
member). No more than nine members may be drawn from the Law School community—
deans, professors, law librarians, writing professors, and clinical educators. The
remaining members are Federal and State Court Judges, lawyers in private practice, bar
examiners, and members of the public, including university administrators.
The Accreditation Committee makes decisions on all accrediting issues except on the
issues of granting or denial of provisional or full accreditation and the imposition of any
adverse action on a school. On those issues, the Accreditation Committee makes
recommendations to the Council, which makes the final decision.
The Standards Review Committee consists of 15 members, and currently has seven law
school academics, two university presidents, one Supreme Court Justice, one federal
judge and four practicing lawyers. The Committee is charged with the regular review of
the Standards. Currently a comprehensive review of the Standards is being undertaken.
All of its activities are accreditation-related.
The Questionnaire Committee is made up of 10 members, all of whom are law school
academics (five deans, two associate deans, two professors and one librarian). This
committee meets three times each year and generally has one-day meetings. The
Committee is charged with evaluating the 11 questionnaires that law schools are required
to submit. Schools subscribe to distribution of ―takeoff‖ data drawn from the
Questionnaires, and information collected in the questionnaires is used by both the
Accreditation Committee and the Standards Review Committee in carrying out their
work. Questionnaire Committee activities are 100% percent accreditation related.
4. Separate and Independent
Pursuant to DOE regulations, specifically 34 C.F.R. Section 602.14(b), the accreditation
function must be maintained, and in fact is maintained, in a manner that is ―separate and
independent‖ of the American Bar Association. See Appendix H. The specific
requirements of the federal regulation are as follows:
The members of the Council and its committees involved in law school accreditation decision
making, may not be elected or selected by the Board or chief executive officer of the
American Bar Association or any related, associated or affiliated trade association or
At least one member of the Council and the Accreditation Committee must be a
representative of the public, and at least one-seventh of that body must be a member of the
The Council must have established and implemented guidelines for each member of the
decision-making body to avoid conflicts of interest in making decisions;
Any dues or fees paid for accreditation must be paid separately from any dues paid to any
related, associated, or affiliated trade association or membership organization;
The Council must develop and determine its own budget, with no review by or consultation
with any other entity or organization.
It is worth noting that separate and independent for the Accreditation Project does not
mean isolation or an absence of communication. The importance of legal education as a
subject within the ABA dictates that the Board of Governors, the House of Delegates, and
other entities are likely to be interested in current issues in legal education. Individual
ABA members will have opinions about issues affecting legal education, and, as within
the Section itself, those opinions are likely to be diverse and disparate. Separate and
independent means that decisions about funding the Accreditation Project need to be
made by the groups authorized by DOE to make such decisions, specifically the Section
Council and the Accreditation Project committees. Decisions about law school
accreditation must be made within a defined process, absent conflicts of interest and
influences not related to the quality of the educational programs at the law schools being
The DOE requires that accrediting agencies provide sufficient resources to carry out
accreditation activities, but does not specify funding sources or levels. Funding decisions
regarding accreditation of law schools remain in the hands of the Section Council. An
ongoing issue for the Section has been the tendency for accreditation expenses to limit
funds available for non-accreditation activities of the Section, as discussed in the
The Section collects fees from approved law schools, including annual fees based on
enrollment and programs and subscriptions to law school questionnaire data takeoffs,
which support the Accreditation Project. In fiscal year 2008, these fees produced 64
percent of the income needed to support the project. The Fund for Justice and Education
provides 34 percent of the budget through a Board of Governors appropriation. The
actual percentages vary from year to year, although over time, fees have tended to
account for a greater percentage of the total operating budget for the Accreditation
Project. The 2008 Revenues generated from law school fees amounted to $2,005,975, and
the FJE provided $1,085,065, for a total operating budget of $3,090,980 for the
The Accreditation Project is authorized to maintain a reserve fund, so that any surplus
from one year does not revert to the ABA General Fund. Such a surplus rolls over and
can be used for the purposes for which these funds were allocated without involving the
ABA budget process, thereby supporting the DOE separate and independent requirement.
The reserve fund was created to address fluctuations in revenues and expenses due to
varying numbers of law school inspections from year to year, which created instability in
the funding process. Originally, there was a $400,000 cap on the reserve fund, but in
August 2009, the Board of Governors removed the cap, consistent with ABA policy for
other section reserve funds.
E. Section Activities and Resources
The Task Force, at the November 2008 meeting, reached a consensus that the Section has
insufficient resources given its responsibilities for the Accreditation Project and its other
Section activities. A Subcommittee was charged with the responsibility of identifying and
analyzing what the Section would do with additional resources should they be made
available. Obviously, this required interaction with the Consultant and his staff. The
projects and new activities identified in this Report were generated by the Consultant’s
office through its ongoing planning process and interaction with the Finance Committee
of the Section.
Of the 13.5 FTE staff members, only the Section’s Publications Manager and Director of
Operations spend more time on Section activities than on accreditation activities. The
percentages vary depending on the staff person, but on the whole the Accreditation
Project occupies about 80% of staff time. Based on this estimate, it appears that only 2.7
FTE staff serve the Section’s non-accreditation activities. In addition, there are needs and
opportunities for service to law schools and the broader legal education community that
the Consultant’s office is unable to tackle.
Almost all staff members in the office perform both Section and Accreditation Project
functions. The interest in and commitment to Section responsibilities is strong, but given
the growth in the number of law schools (not to mention the time demands presented by
DOE oversight), the staff’s ability to provide those services is limited.
This problem is compounded by the fact that the Section receives no ABA General Funds
for staff support, notwithstanding Board of Governors policy that each section of the
ABA should receive a minimum of two staff positions (and actual practice, which places
the level of section staff support considerably higher). The reasons for this funding
oversight are not clear, but the need for ABA support in this area to achieve the Enhanced
Section envisioned in this Report is critical.
F. The Section and the Board of Governors
Relations between the Board of Governors and the Section of Legal Education are
complicated. In its earliest decades, the ABA Executive Committee (now the Board)
made decisions concerning the standards for approval of law schools, and spun off a
Legal Education Committee (now the Section) in 1921, when the legal education work
became burdensome. Historical reports suggest that tension existed between the Board
and Legal Education for decades. Beginning in the 1950s, when the accreditation process
came under the auspices of the federal government, the role of the Board and the Section
evolved to meet a new set of demands, although controversy surrounding accreditation
decisions further contributed to differences between the Board and the Section. Since
1997, however, the trend has been for the Board and the leadership of the Section to work
together within the constraints of a government-regulated process.
For several reasons, the Section of Legal Education is unique among all ABA entities.
One reason is that, unlike other ABA entities that have a primary mission, the mission of
the Section is bifurcated. One focus is to be a ―creative national force in providing
leadership and services to those responsible for and those who benefit from a sound
program of legal education and bar admissions.‖ The other focus is ―to provide a fair,
effective and efficient accrediting system for American law schools that promotes quality
legal education and … to serve … as a nationally recognized accrediting body for
American law schools.‖
Another distinguishing feature of the Section, compared to other ABA entities, is that, in
carrying out its dual mission, the Section must perform its accreditation function
consistent with the separate and independent requirements of the DOE regulations. The
Section’s dual responsibility and the DOE requirements affect how the Section functions
operationally, as well as how staff and committee activities are allocated between the
dual functions, matters that can be confusing to a casual, outside observer and even to the
members of the ABA Board who are not very familiar with the structure, functioning, and
activities of the Section.
The Task Force believes that both the ABA Board and the Section would be well served
by the implementation of more regularized, systematic communications between the two
entities. Such communications would promote a greater appreciation on the part of the
ABA Board for the ―separate and independent‖ character of the Section and its ―dual‖
mission of legal education and bar admissions, on the one hand, and accreditation of laws
schools, on the other hand. It also would provide the Section with opportunities to
enhance its profile with the leadership of the ABA and the legal education community in
Implementing a new approach to communications between the Board and the Section
also would provide the Board with a better appreciation for the context in which
controversies or ―hot issues‖ arise in connection with the work of the Section. For
example, in 2006-07, the DOE insisted that the Section develop a standard for bar exam
passage rates expected or required of law schools in order for law schools to maintain
their accreditation status. That development resulted in active debate within the legal
education community that carried over to the ABA Board and the ABA House of
Delegates. The Task Force view is that it would have been of value to all concerned if,
prior to or during that episode, the ABA Board had the benefit of a full briefing on the
underlying facts and issues. If nothing else, such a briefing would have provided the
ABA Board with a greater appreciation for the context in which the issues arose.
What is needed from both the Board of Governors and the Section is a commitment to
ongoing communications, with a concomitant respect for the process governing law
school accreditation. The Section’s Board Liaison is an important part of the
communication process, and because of the high visibility of the Section, its Liaison may
have a greater burden than other Board Liaisons to stay abreast of Section activities and
maintain strong lines of communication.
In addition to the Board, the Section needs to maintain communication with other entities
in the ABA and to participate in ABA governance. Section leaders need to participate in
the Section Officers Conference, the Conference of Section and Division Delegates, ABA
Day in Washington and other ABA-wide events. The Section should work with other
ABA entities that have interests in legal education or active involvement of academic
lawyers. The Section’s Liaison to the Law Student Division is important as well, because
law students share an interest in what goes on in law schools. To this end, both the Law
Student Liaison to the Council and the Law Student Liaison to the Board can contribute
to better communications.
V. Strategic Agenda for the Future
A. Growing the Section
The Section’s Strategic Planning Committee studied a variety of strategic initiatives to
support the Section’s long-term goals and objectives. The Strategic Plan was widely
circulated among law schools and other stakeholders in legal education. The Strategic
Plan was adopted by the Section Council in December, 2006, and it remains a guiding
document for developing a stronger Section. See Appendix B. In 2007, Section Chair
Ruth McGregor appointed a new Finance Committee charged with developing a five-year
financial plan to underwrite the Section’s activities and strategic initiatives. See
Appendix C. The Financial Plan was adopted by the Council in February, 2009, and was
incorporated into the planning process for the 2009-2010 Section budget. The economic
downturn has forced postponement of initiatives that will require substantial additional
resources, but Section leadership anticipates moving forward with its financial plans in
2010-2011, and beyond.
Among the projects contemplated for the future in the Strategic Plan and Budget are the
Conducting a comprehensive review of LL.M. programs to determine compliance
with the standards relating to acquiescence;
Studying international issues relating to accreditation, including accreditation of
foreign law schools;
In collaboration with the Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI), establishing a core of
volunteers to visit and assist foreign schools;
Drafting a Model Rule on Admission of Foreign Lawyers;
Increasing the information available on the Web site regarding accreditation;
Developing a series of Consultant's Memos to assist schools in understanding the
Standards that are most cited by the Accreditation Committee;
Streamlining the procedures used throughout the accreditation process to increase
transparency and decrease the burden on schools.
B. Support for Accreditation Project
The increase in the number of law schools, foreign programs, and non-J.D. programs has
led to an enormous increase in workload for both the staff and the members of the
accreditation project committees: Accreditation; Standards Review, and Questionnaires.
In order for the Accreditation work to be completed in a timely manner, additional staff
support is needed to verify that site teams obtain all necessary information prior to site
visits and to ensure that reports are complete. The volume of work also has increased the
need for creating streamlined procedures for submitting data from schools, providing data
to site team members, writing site team reports, monitoring all accredited programs, and
managing the large volume of data received.
1. Historical Functions
As indicated above, the process of simply maintaining the historical functions of the
Accreditation Project has grown increasingly complex and time-consuming with the
addition of 17 schools since 2000. Historical functions include:
Scheduling and preparing materials for site visits to schools;
Processing and reviewing annual and site visit questionnaires;
Processing and analyzing data received from the schools;
Substantively reviewing annual and site reports for sabbatical, fact-finding, semester
abroad, and foreign summer programs;
Monitoring school compliance with the Standards through sabbatical visits,
Accreditation Committee decision letters, and follow-up correspondence;
Reviewing foreign program annual and site visit questionnaires and requests for new
Reviewing requests for acquiescence in non-J.D. programs;
Training hundreds of volunteers involved in the accreditation process;
Responding to requests for assistance from new and approved law schools;
Responding to complaints about law schools;
Scheduling and supporting the Accreditation Committee, Council, and other
committee meetings; and
Handling matters related to DOE compliance.
2. Comprehensive Review of the Standards
The process of reviewing and updating the Standards is an ongoing activity. In light of
issues raised in the Section’s 2007 Accreditation Policy Task Force Report and the 2006
Section Strategic Plan, the Section is undertaking a comprehensive review of the
Standards. The review is designed to address a number of global issues discussed in
recent years, including transparency and consistency in the accreditation process,
incorporating outcome measures into the Standards, focusing the process on the
fundamental principles of accreditation, and increasing the efficiency in the process.
The review will lead to a similar comprehensive review of the questionnaires used in the
accreditation process and a revamping or streamlining of the site visit process. It is worth
mentioning that review of the content of the Standards was not included in the charge to
this Task Force, and the Task Force has not made any recommendations related to the
content of the Standards.
3. Training of Volunteers
Training of all persons involved in the accreditation process is an extremely important
aspect of the work of the Accreditation Project staff and volunteers. There is a need to
create new training materials to accommodate the technologically savvy new site team
members and to create a Web site that is easily navigable. Although many site visitors
have done multiple law school inspections, the sheer volume of the process requires the
addition of many new volunteers every year.
4. Proposed Additional Staff for the Accreditation Project
The Section planned to add one new Accreditation staff member in each of the next three
fiscal years, beginning in 2009-2010. Economic conditions in 2008-2009 affected all
ABA budgets and forced the Section to postpone the implementation of its staff growth
plan. The Finance Committee of the Section is hopeful that the new staff members can be
added, beginning in 2010-2011. The new Accreditation Project positions include:
One Accreditation Paralegal. The new Accreditation Paralegal will assist the
Consultant in managing accreditation documents; preparing site team templates and
reports; managing site visit scheduling; compiling and preparing materials for
Accreditation Committee meetings; monitoring Annual Questionnaires; managing
Site Visit Questionnaires.
One Assistant Consultant. The new Assistant Consultant will be assigned
responsibility for working with the Accreditation Committee in monitoring all aspects
of accreditation for approximately 40 schools. This includes reviewing and analyzing
all annual and sabbatical questionnaires for those schools (sabbatical, study abroad,
foreign summer programs, major change, cooperative programs); handling all
requests for acquiescence; providing support to site teams in preparing for school
visits by assuring completeness of information provided by the schools; reviewing
site team reports to assure that complete information is provided to the Accreditation
Committee; responding to complaints regarding the school’s compliance with the
Standards; and responding to requests for assistance from schools.
One Accreditation Paralegal and one Assistant Consultant. The addition of one
Accreditation Paralegal and one Assistant Consultant will make it possible to begin to
implement the new activities planned for the Accreditation project as outlined in this
memorandum. Thus, in addition to providing resources needed to maintain the
historic functions of the Accreditation Project as described in the job descriptions
above, these positions will conduct a comprehensive review of LL.M. programs,
support Section activities related to international issues; develop Consultant’s memos
to assist schools; and develop streamlined procedures for the accreditation process.
These positions are contemplated in both the Strategic and Financial Plans of the Section,
and they are critical to achieving the Section’s goals. Even though these new positions
are related to accreditation, the addition of these positions will free other staff members
to work on non-accreditation matters.
C. Support for Section Non-Accreditation Activities
1. Existing Section Activities
In support of the non-accreditation activities of the Section, the Office of the Consultant
assists Section volunteers in providing services that assist law schools in improving their
programs, supports committees that develop recommendations for improvements in legal
education and the bar admissions process, gathers and disseminates information about
legal education in the United States and around the world through Section print and
electronic publications, and represents the interests of legal education in many forums.
The Section activities fall into several categories:
Conferences: The Section, on an annual or bi-annual basis, sponsors and runs several
conferences that reach broad audiences in the legal education community:
DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE: The June 2007 conference, which focused on
fundraising, had a registration of 365 law school representatives.
FACILITIES AND TECHNOLOGY CONFERENCE: The 2006 conference attracted
DEANS’ WORKSHOP: Held annually in conjunction with the ABA Midyear
meeting; in 2008, 140 Deans of ABA-approved law schools attended this one and
one-half day Workshop.
NEW DEANS’ SEMINAR: This seminar is held annually, and this year there were
29 participants. It is a two and one-half day Seminar.
ASSOCIATE DEANS CONFERENCE: This bi-annual conference was held again in
June 2008. There were 142 associate or assistant deans in attendance.
CONCLAVES ON LEGAL EDUCATION: Three of these were held in 2006-2007,
one national and two statewide. One-hundred four deans, judges and practitioners
participated in the national conclave. The State conferences were in Florida in
December 2006 and in Virginia in June 2007.
BAR EXAM PASSAGE CONFERENCE: This conference was held in October 2008,
and the response suggests that future conferences on this topic would be well-
All of these conferences generate income for the Section through the collection of
registration fees. The committees that plan these events, and the presenters who are
utilized, are all volunteers.
Publications: The Section produces several publications on a regular basis, of which only
The ABA/LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools generates revenue. These
SYLLABUS: The Section’s newsletter is published three times a year and is provided
free to all Section members.
ANNUAL REPORT: The Report is distributed to Section members in January
following the close of the preceding fiscal year. The Report provides a perspective
on activities and achievements realized over the past year.
THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO BAR ADMISSIONS: The Section collaborates
with the National Conference of Bar Examiners in the production of this annual guide
to the bar admissions rules and requirements of all United States jurisdictions.
THE ABA/LSAC OFFICIAL GUIDE TO ABA-APPROVED LAW SCHOOLS: This
annual publication contains a two-page narrative and two pages of data on each ABA-
approved law school. It is sold in hard copy and posted in the LSAC website.
There are 24 committees of the Section, not including the three ―Standing‖ (and
accreditation-related committees: Accreditation, Standards Review and Questionnaire).
The committees are all made up of volunteers and one staff person is assigned as support
to each committee. The committees function independently, report periodically to the
Council and carry out discrete tasks. These twenty-four committees address such law
school issues as professionalism, curriculum, diversity, clinical skills, law libraries,
adjunct faculty, pre-law, bar admissions, communication skills, graduate legal education,
facilities, etc. In addition, some committees address Section-related issues (governance,
finance, grievance, nominations, etc).
Most of the Section’s leaders have been drawn from committees associated with the
Accreditation Project. The makeup of the officers and Council is created to assure that
academics do not dominate the Section. Yet, the pathway to leadership for individuals
who do not come up through the accreditation process is limited. A more robust Section
should develop new leaders from other arenas. For the future, the Enhanced Section
should seek to create pathways to leadership through committees and service outside of
the Accreditation Project.
3. Expanded Section Activities
The Section Strategic Planning Committee discussed a number of areas in which the
Sections could grow. Some of those are longer term, and must be developed over time;
others are more immediate. For example, in addition to the current work of the Section
staff, the following new tasks could be accomplished by current and new Section staff:
a. Support for New and Existing Conferences
Create and staff a conference planning committee.
Create a process and schedule for soliciting and selecting conference topics.
Obtain financial support for conferences through sponsorships, program advertising,
and conference exhibit space.
b. Committee Support
Create committee Web sites.
Create and maintain online Committee recruitment and nomination process.
c. Membership Support and Development
Reestablish and staff Membership Committee.
Identify Section membership and what services members want from the Section.
Engage more members in the activities of the Section through committees,
conferences, publications, etc.
Coordinate activities with ABA membership department.
Create and staff a Section publishing board.
Reprint and revise current publications, i.e., Sourcebook on Legal Writing Programs,
Survey of Law School Curricula.
e. Web Site
Reconfigure and expand Web Site functionality.
Post and maintain Accreditation Project’s public information online with search
functions where applicable.
4. Proposed New Section Staff
A typical ABA Section with 8,700 to 14,000 members is staffed by five full-time staff.
The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar currently has over 13,000
members and is supported by 2.7 FTE staff for its Section activities. Adding two
additional staff members will bring the Section to the ABA average staffing level for an
equivalent Section. Significantly, the addition of these two new staff members will free
up existing staff who are performing these functions in addition to their work on the
Accreditation Project, thus bringing more efficiencies and oversight to that critical effort.
As a result, both sides of the Section’s work will benefit.
As is the situation with the Accreditation Project, the Section requires additional staff
support for its expanded activities. Although the addition of more staff on the
accreditation side will free other staff to work on Section non-accreditation activities, at
least two dedicated staff members will be required for the non-accreditation work of the
One Member Services and Program Manager – Current Section activities generally
include conferences, publications, data collection and production, member services,
and committee work.
One Administrative Assistant – A great deal of staff time is spent handling office and
administrative matters that could be handled by an assistant, in order to free
professional staff to devote more time to their primary responsibilities.
The addition of a Member Services and Program Manager and an Administrative
Assistant to the Section staff would relieve Accreditation Project staff of many of these
types of responsibilities and provide needed support to the Director of Operations, the
Meetings and Events Planner, and the Publications and Technology Manager. Although
additional staff may be required in the future to meet the needs of a growing Section,
these immediate steps will serve to support Section legal education activities, and at the
same time free Accreditation Project staff to devote their energies to accreditation
The Task Force makes the following recommendations to the Board of Governors and the
Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and urges their
1. The current structure is appropriate to serve the needs of legal education, both now
and for the foreseeable future. That structure includes a Section governed by a
Council with volunteer members sitting on functional committees to carry out the
work of the Section, supported by a staff directed by an independent Consultant on
Legal Education, who serves at the pleasure of the Council.
2. In order to assure the existence of a separate and independent Accreditation Project, it
is critical for the Section to distinguish between accreditation and non-accreditation
functions. This does not mean that the two should be physically separated, or that
they should never work together. Rather, it means that the responsibilities and budget
of the Accreditation Project should be clearly defined.
3. Funding for the Accreditation Project should be stable and sustainable. The burden of
financing the Accreditation Project itself should be shifted further to the beneficiaries
of the process, i.e., the law schools. Although this shift has already started, it should
4. It is appropriate that the ABA provide basic funding for the Accreditation Project, and
the Task Force finds that the current ABE/FJE 501(c)(3) grant is an effective way to
provide basic funding without involving the ABA’s budget process and threatening
the separateness and independence of the accreditation process.
5. As for staffing, the Task Force recommends that beginning in the 2010-2011 budget,
and in years thereafter, consistent with ABA policy, that the Association fund two
staff positions for the Section, whose responsibilities will be to support the Section’s
6. The Section must develop a clear, attainable, and sustainable plan for supporting all
Section activities, not just the Accreditation Project. The non-accreditation activities
of the Section cannot be the Section’s stepchildren. The Section Finance Committee
should address the funding issue in the following ways:
Growing membership through attracting new members, including law school
administrators, members of allied organizations, adjunct professors, and lawyers
and judges interested in legal education issues.
Setting dues at a level that will fund its core activities.
Expanding non-dues revenues, publications, continuing legal education and other
conferences, sponsorships, and grants.
Developing and maintaining a strong Section (as opposed to Accreditation
Project) reserve fund.
7. The Section should continue to expand its ongoing effort to build and cement ABA
relations, through active participation in Section Officers Conference, and
cooperation with other ABA entities interested in legal education issues, including
sections, divisions, standing and special committees and commissions. Responsibility
for these ABA relations should be vested in an identifiable Section entity.
8. The Consultant and/or Section Chair should regularly inform the Board of Governors
about Section activities. The Task Force recommends that the following measures be
considered as tools to improve the flow of communication between the ABA Board
and the Section:
The Section should prepare a written annual report, Executive Summary or
similar briefing memorandum to the ABA Board to be submitted in time for the
June meeting of the ABA Board.
The Section should annually brief the new members of the ABA Board, during
orientation, on the mission, structure, function, and activities of the Section, and
provide a Q&A forum as part of the briefing.
At some regular interval, if there is a genuine need, the Consultant on Legal
Education and the Council Chair should be asked to make a presentation to the
ABA Board on matters such as lawsuits or other controversies or ―hot topics‖
relating to law school approval, trends in legal education, developments on law
school accreditation standards, recognition by the DOE, developments relating to
the Annual Questionnaire, etc. This would provide a chance to remind the ABA
Board of the requirements of ―separate and independent‖ and the importance of
Every new President-elect and other officers should meet with the Consultant and
Council Chair to make sure all questions are answered and lines of
communication are clear. The President-elect could be invited to attend, speak,
and ask questions at one meeting of the Section Council each year.
9. In order to carry out the recommendations in this Report, this Task Force urges the
Section to designate an appropriate Section entity dedicated to building the robust
Section that is envisioned in this Report, and indeed in the Section’s own Strategic
and Financial Plans.
VII. Conclusion: Creating a Robust Section of Legal Education
This Report has described the history, current practices and future vision the ABA’s
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, including the Section’s
Accreditation Project, one of the oldest and most important activities of the
American Bar Association. The term ―ABA-Approved Law School‖ is the gold standard
by which law schools are measured, and this is a key element of the ABA brand, and the
value of this aspect of the ABA brand should not be compromised.
From its roots as the first ABA section, the Section of Legal Education and Admissions
to the Bar has evolved over a period of one hundred years to serve the needs of lawyers
employed by academic institutions, and to promote the quality of professional law school
education. Over the course of time, both legal education and the accreditation of law
schools have evolved, and the Section has consistently sought to remain on the forefront
of changes. Throughout its history, the Section and the Accreditation Project have been
under consistent scrutiny, from law schools, law school applicants and students, the
courts, the federal government, and the ABA itself. The creation of this Task Force
represents one of many episodes examining the work of the Section.
As this Report reflects, the Section has made great strides toward separating out
accreditation and non-accreditation budgets and staff functions, but the Task Force
understands that some overlap is inevitable. For example, the Deans’ Workshop may
present information on a variety of topics relevant to law school deans, only one of which
would be accreditation. At the same time, however, the Deans’ Workshop might appear
on the Section budget, supported by Section staff, but if the Workshop includes
accreditation components, the Section might charge the Accreditation Project budget
through an allocation system.
The Task Force believes that the measures described in the recommendations to improve
communications between the Section and the Board of Governors would facilitate better
understanding between the two, and would further the ABA Board’s appreciation of the
Section’s work under the DOE’s ―separate and independent‖ requirements. Those
requirements are designed to ensure integrity and transparency in the law school
accreditation process. They do not prohibit the flow of information between the ABA
Board and the Section regarding the Section’s activities, as long as such information is
also available to the general public; nor do they ban the ABA Board from holding the
Section accountable for its non-accreditation activities. The Task Force believes that
these recommendations represent a step in the right direction toward improved
communication and understanding between the ABA Board and the Section.
The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is a core activity of the
American Bar Association, and the ABA must provide the necessary support and
resources to allow it to succeed in its goals. The Section as well must deliver services and
products at a high level to American legal educators, law schools, lawyers and the public.
This Report finds that the basic goals are being met within the existing structure, but that
there is room to grow and improve in the coming years, provided the vision and resources
necessary to achieve these goals can be articulated and marshaled successfully.
Task Force on Law School Accreditation
Talbot ―Sandy‖ D’Alemberte, Chair
Laurel G. Bellows Nathaniel Bernstein
Carol E. Dinkins Bryant Garth
W. Anthony Jenkins Peter J. Kalis
Larry Kramer Ruth V. McGregor
Gary A. Munneke Jequita Napoli
Richard Pena Stephen A.. Saltzburg
Kurt L. Schmoke Pauline A. Schneider
Diane C. Yu Laurie D. Zelon
A. Task Force Roster (page 2)
B. Robert MacCrate Memo on History of the Advisor/Consultant (page 3)
C. Section Strategic Plan (pages 5,20)
D. Section Financial Plan (pages 5, 20)
E. Chappell Committee Report (page 5)
F. Segment Value Initiative Report (page 13)
G. Organizational Report (page 15)
H. Separate and Independent PowerPoint (page 17)
*Appendices Available Upon Request.
September 15, 2009