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The American Bar Association is taking a long, hard look at how it accredits schools. According to the ABA Journal, "The most significant change in the Standards for Approval of Law Schools is likely to be a move away from evaluating law schools on the basis of criteria that measure 'input'--such things as faculty size, budget and physical plant. Instead, the Legal Education Section would evaluate law schools more heavily on the basis of 'outcome' measures." By looking at a school's "outcome," the ABA will offer accreditation based on "what students actually take away from their educational experience at a particular law school rather than what the school teaches."
The "sea change" in accreditation will have a number of results. It will change the focus of law schools looking for ABA approval. Everyone should know by now that schools will game whatever rankings or accreditation system you put in place, so why not force them to "game" it by teaching their students. Isn't student success what being a good school should be about?
All these new law schools in the pipeline will be held to a high standard--and believe me, there are a lot of schools in the pipeline. Luckily, these programs will only receive accreditation after they've proven they have taught their students to be lawyers--and not before. The Recession has done little to curb the introduction of new programs--maybe the ABA standards change will be more successful.
Interestingly, the sweeping review change comes less than two months after the introduction of a $40,000, one-year Transition to Practice LLM at UCLA Law, which offers students the opportunity to learn what they would had they gotten a job as a first-year associate. Although being a first-year associate is much like being a lawyer apprentice, focused on learning and gaining experience, it is unsettling that the program will charge JDs to learn what they could be paid to learn. As the WSJ points out, if the program is handled correctly it could be a useful stepping stone to practice. However, if it is instead more like a fourth year of law school, it would imply that UCLA Law grads with only three years under their belt aren't fully equipped. Did they not learn enough? In which case, even UCLA Law would be candidate for the ABA's new review.
In the words of Above the Law, "Hallelujah!"
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