American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, Politics

ABA Claims It Lacks Authority To Stop Proliferation Of Law Schools. And Claims It Doesn’t Matter Anyway.

About a week ago, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to the American Bar Association, essentially asking the organization to explain its lack of institutional control over law schools.

Well, the ABA has now responded. If you’ve been following the ABA closely, you’re not going to be surprised by the response. It’s the usual ABA combination of whining that they can’t do better while arguing that they don’t need to do better, because the market will magically provide jobs for everybody. Not the current market, of course — it’d just be silly to expect that people will have jobs before their loans go into default — but a magical future market that they provide no evidence will actually exist.

All one can really hope for is that people like Senator Grassley take the ABA at its word — and take regulatory authority away from the ABA, to give it to some organization with the will to use it….

The ABA took a good cop/sniveling cop approach to the letter from Senator Grassley. The “good cop” was ABA President Steven Zack. Zack wrote a letter that was oh-so-understanding of Grassley’s important concerns. He wrote: “No one could be more focused on the future of our next generation of lawyers than the ABA.”

If the ABA cares about the next generation of lawyers, it has a really interesting way of showing it. Or maybe they are “focused” on the next generation in the same way that somebody might simply “watch” a person jumping off of a building without trying to do anything to help him.

The part of the disingenuous cop was played by the ABA committee on law school accreditation. That committee sent a separate letter to Senator Grassley. The WSJ Law Blog pulls out the paragraph that truly illustrates everything that is wrong with the American Bar Association:

The purpose of accredited law schools is to graduate attorneys who can serve the justice system and the long term need for lawyers over a lifetime. Denying accreditation to an otherwise-qualified law school would be a violation of Department of Education regulations. Furthermore, adjustments in the numbers of students enrolling in law school to begin their careers cannot and should not be affected by short-range economic developments. The Section does monitor enrollments and placement and distributes information on both. However, as indicated above, regardless of what some may see as the desirability of denying access to the legal profession on the basis of even medium-term employment opportunities, the accrediting agency simply cannot lawfully do so.

There is so much manure in this paragraph I feel like Biff Tannen. Two points must be made:

  • What does “otherwise-qualified” law schools even mean? What they seem to be saying is that denying accreditation to a law school that meets the ABA’s extremely low standards simply because the ABA has extremely low standards would be unlawful. The easy fix here would be to RAISE the standards of accreditation so that “otherwise-qualified” law schools wouldn’t be qualified.
  • Has ANYBODY at the ABA done a study that tells it what the long-term need for lawyers over a lifetime is going to be? We’ve got evidence that we have too many lawyers in the short term. If the ABA wants to pivot to the long-term need for lawyers, shouldn’t they at least have a shred of empirical evidence to support this notion? I could make a great case that, over the long term, the need for lawyers will go down, as technology improves, outsourcing becomes more accepted, and additional “Wal-Mart Law Offices” pop up that allow for mass production of legal solutions. (Does the American Bar Association have any fact or figure to counter my presumption? Because I’m just a guy writing a blog, while they are making decisions about the future of the legal profession based on… ??????)

In terms of the old ABA standby that they cannot “lawfully” regulate law schools, that’s just a total abdication of responsibility. Maybe the most truthful thing in this letter to Grassley is this kind of tacit admission that the organization is completely useless.

And so the ball is back in the court of the politicians. Senator Grassley, Senator Barbara Boxer, this is the organization you are dealing with — one that lacks the internal fortitude to actually do the job they’ve been charged with. They would rather obfuscate about the entire issue and make plans based on zero statistical evidence than actually function. They’ve been like this for a while.

If these senators really care about the future of legal education in this country, they’ll take the power that the ABA is not using and give it to somebody else. Turn the ABA into the Chamber of Commerce for Lawyers and leave the hard work of actually regulating people to the Department of Education or some other institution that will actually pay attention to what’s happening in the legal marketplace.

ABA to Senator Grassley: We Share Your Concerns about Law Schools [WSJ Law Blog]

Earlier: And Now The ABA Has Bi-Partisan Pressure To Actually Regulate Law Schools

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