Protectionism? You betcha!

Bowing to pressure from arguably every unemployed or underemployed American-trained attorney, the American Bar Association has delayed its controversial decision about whether or not to start accrediting foreign law schools. Back in August, we told you that the ABA was thinking about unleashing foreign-educated attorneys upon bar examinations across the country. And apparently on this one rare occasion the ABA chose against flooding the market with even more attorneys when there are not enough jobs to go around.

Should attorneys be openly happy about this blatant protectionism? I don’t know — have you tried to get a job in this market?

The only thing global competition is going to do is push down legal salaries, while having zero effect on the cost of legal education….

I’d like to think of this as a turning point in the ABA’s stance towards actually helping its lawyer-members. In deciding to table this decision, the ABA talked a lot of unmitigated bollocks about how foreign attorneys need to spend time in American educational institutions to “learn U.S. values and ethics.” Whatever. As another batch of students found out yesterday, the MPRE really isn’t that complicated.

But I’d like to think that the heart of the ABA’s decision was concern for American-trained attorneys (foreign-born or otherwise). That concern is nestled into this paragraph from the ABA Journal:

[T]he report also acknowledged a potential negative effect on U.S. lawyers. Making graduates of ABA-approved foreign law schools eligible to sit for domestic bar examinations would mean more competition for U.S. attorneys in a tight job market. And if the foreign school is government-sponsored, political difficulties could arise, creating problems “potentially with the Department of State,” the report said.

Don’t hide from protectionism, American Bar Association. Embrace it. Acknowledge that you’ve done a terrible job at helping to manage the supply of lawyers relative to the demand for high-priced legal services, and please tell us this is just a first step towards turning off the spigot of fresh attorneys.

In fact, not accrediting foreign law schools could have other positive effects on the amount of American attorneys:

The committee said differing state standards for the evaluation of educational credentials could also result in, “more pressure on bar examiners to raise bar-passage requirements since the bar exam will be the primary means to ensure minimal quality and this will have adverse consequences for the graduates of many U.S. law schools as well.”

Yes. Do this. Do this now! Why wouldn’t you try to pressure states into raising the bar-passage requirements? Make it a harder test (or a test that is harder to pass). Make it more difficult for low-end “accredited” ABA law schools to maintain high bar passage rates. If you’re going to allow law schools to proliferate to the point where anybody who wants to go can go, then allow some of these people to break themselves against a bar exam that is difficult enough to actually mean something. This is supposed to be a profession, not a kid’s soccer league. Not everybody gets to play.

Political philosophers teach us that the nature of institutions is to grow. The bigger you are, the more powerful you are or seem to be. It takes great leadership and foresight for an organization to curb its own expansion. Here, it’s natural for the ABA to want to do things that increase the amount of “ABA-accredited law schools” (and their graduates, potential ABA members). But over the long term, such growth would be damaging to the ABA (to say nothing of the million-plus licensed attorneys in this country). Growth for growth’s sake might be natural, but it’s not necessarily good.

It’s huge step for the ABA to slow its own growth. Let’s hope that it can see the benefit of doing this. Let’s hope that the ABA will be thinking just as critically when it comes time to accredit the next native law school.

ABA Puts Off Decision on Accreditation of Foreign Law Schools [ABA Journal]

Earlier: ABA Ponders Accrediting Offshore Law Schools


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