ABA Standards – Tour 2

Today’s wonderful presentations at AALS on accreditation* inspired me to post the second ABA tour. This one is on the committees of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. It’s below

* The first was the program of the Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research, entitled “How Legal Writing Faculty Can Contribute to Their Law School’s Assessment Plan, by David Thompson, Sophie Sparrow, and Lori Shaw. The second was a panel on academic freedom and tenure, which included Richard Neumann.

Committees

The Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar has numerous committees. The most important to the legal writing community are (1) Accreditation, (2) Standards Review, (3) Communications Skills, and (4) Curriculum. A full list of committees, along with brief descriptions, is available on the Section’s website at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education.html

To understand the work of the first two committees, we have to review the accreditation process. Each law school undergoes a lengthy process to be accredited by the ABA. (I’ll leave that tour to a colleague who has gone through the process.) Once accredited, a school must be reviewed every seven years. The school reflects on its goals and accomplishments; then it writes a long document called the “Self Study.” After reviewing the Self Study, a site team (typically seven members, including law faculty, a librarian, and a practitioner) visits for two long days of fact finding. The team observes classes; meets with faculty, administrators, and students; reviews the library’s holdings and physical space; considers whether the building meets disability accommodations; etc. The team writes a long report summarizing its findings. That report goes to the Accreditation Committee, which recommends to the Council whether a school should continue to be accredited.

Accreditation Committee

The Accreditation Committee is recognized (along with the Section’s Council) as the accrediting agency for United States law schools. The Committee administers the accreditation process. As noted above, it reviews site evaluation reports; it also reviews progress reports. It issues to the evaluated law school a “DECISION OF THE ACCREDITATION COMMITTEE.” The decision has “FINDINGS OF FACT” and “CONCLUSIONS,” and the latter can include phrases such as “[The school] has not demonstrated that it is in compliance with the Standards in the following respects …” and “The committee has insufficient info to determine whether the school is in compliance with the Standards in the following respects …” Some people call these decisions the unpublished “common law” of the Accreditation Committee.

This committee is responsible not only for J.D. programs but also for semester-abroad and summer-abroad programs, and graduate (post-J.D.) programs. Pam Lysaght has recently been appointed to the Accreditation Committee.

Standards Review Committee

The Standards Review Committee (SRC) develops and reviews proposed changes to the existing standards, as well as the interpretations of the standards and the rules and policies concerning the standards. Richard Neumann served on this committee several years ago.

The SRC periodically goes through a systematic process of reviewing all the standards. The current review is especially interesting because it was preceded by deep thinking by the Council about the goals of the standards. The Chair at the time appointed three ad hoc committees to consider Outcome Measures, Security of Position, and Transparency; the committees’ reports and responses of various organizations are posted here. These documents have influenced the work of the SRC over the past two years.

The SRC meets four times each year to discuss issues, consider drafts proposed by subcommittees, and hear from people and organizations interested in its work (the SRC has been less inclined to hear outside comments in the past year or so). Much information about the SRC’s work is posted at its website

Once the SRC has made proposals, it sends them to the Council. The Council might revise them before sending them out for public comment. Typically the process of soliciting public comment has included both holding hearings and accepting written comments. (Legal writing has always been represented during the period of public comment. Legal writing faculty have spoken at hearings, and ALWD and LWI have sent letters.) After the notice and comment period, the SRC makes its final recommendations to the Council, which may adopt, revised, amend, or reject the standards. The ABA House of Delegates must approve any action before it becomes final.

Communications Skills Committee

The Communications Skills Committee “examines and promotes effective communication skills training in law schools.” So many legal writing professors have served and are serving on this committee that I won’t try to name them all.

This committee is especially important to legal writing because it is responsible for the ABA Sourcebook on Legal Writing Programs. If you haven’t seen the Sourcebook, get one soon and read it carefully! The Sourcebook provides guidance to faculty and administrators on best practices in legal writing. It covers the goals, content, pedagogy, and grading in first-year writing courses; staffing models and personnel issues; director responsibilities; upper-level courses; ESL students; and ABA accreditation information. It also includes a lengthy bibliography of legal writing scholarship.

The first Sourcebook was published in 1997; authors included Ralph Brill, Susan Brody, Chris Kunz, Richard Neumann, and Marilyn Walter. The second edition was published in 2006; Eric Easton was the general editor and authors included Mary Beth Beazley, Brad Clary, Davalene Cooper, Jo Anne Durako, Kristin Gerdy, Jane Gionfriddo, Jan Levine, Sue Liemer, Pam Lysaght, Nancy Soonpaa, Michael Smith, and Mark Wojcik.

Curriculum Committee

Although not directly related to our tour of ABA standards, the Curriculum Committee is important. Its current project is a 2d edition of the Survey of Law School Curricula 2002-2010. Craig Smith is currently serving on this committee.

Suzanne E. Rowe
University of Oregon
School of Law
srowe@uoregon.edu