At some point, the Department of Education is going to have to step in and put a stop to the American Bar Association’s monopoly over the standards for legal education. The ABA has gotten to the point where it’s just trolling us — making patently ridiculous decisions as if it doesn’t even have to pretend to have a grasp on the challenges facing prospective law students and the legal profession.

The ABA’s “watchdog” for law schools is stepping down. Hulett “Bucky” Askew, of John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, has served as the ABA’s consultant on legal education since 2006. Note: that’s a pre-recession date. I take this as more evidence (as if we needed more) that the ABA has been operating with a pre-recession mentality throughout the entire recession and quasi-recovery.

But let’s stop crying about the ABA’s almost comically slow response to the shifting legal education market. Wait until you get a load of the guy who’s going to be Askew’s interim replacement…

The National Law Journal reports on who will be filling Askew’s role on an interim basis:

Former deputy consultant Barry Currier will rejoin the ABA on an interim basis on June 4, pending a formal search for Askew’s permanent replacement.

“The ABA and the legal education community have been fortunate to benefit from Bucky’s wisdom and talent for six years,” said John O’ Brien, dean at the New England School of Law and chair of the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. “We wish him the best as he returns to his home in Atlanta.”

First of all, I’d just like to point out that the guy from John Marshall Atlanta is stepping down to be replaced by the guy from Concord Law, and the guy from New England School of Law approves. And we wonder why the ABA is reluctant to toughen accreditation standards or engage in any meaningful consumer protection for prospective law students.

But I digress.

The timing of Askew’s departure is “curious,” according to one reader. That’s because there’s new news on the Duncan Law front. You’ll remember that Duncan was denied accreditation by the ABA and then sued the organization. A tipster frames Askew’s departure in that light:

After the ABA denied provisional accreditation, the school appealed, and the appellate board had 30 days to respond, and that time elapsed today. The students were informed through Twen on Westlaw today that the appellate board remanded the council’s decision back to the council for “further consideration.” This info came out today, and coincidentally Hulett Askew stepped down today as well. It’s curious timing, but it could be a coincidence. After the ABA’s decision, the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners (who approved LMU-DSOL for state-wide accreditation) decided to review the school and today yet again approved LMU-DSOL for state-wide accreditation. It seems like things are on the uptick for them. Obviously, a remand isn’t as good as a reversal, but it appears they saw something and it would seem they got a bit of good news today.

Personally, I think it’s a coincidence. The ABA is too tone-deaf to actually understand the media optics of any of its decisions.

Which brings us to the person they’ve tapped to be the interim legal education watchdog. Barry Currier is the dean of Concord Law School, a “distance learning” law school in California.

Now, I’ve actually seen Currier speak. He strikes me as a good guy who is also concerned about the rising cost of legal education. But working at an online, unaccredited law school does not scream “consultant on legal education.”

Maybe Chewbacca should be in charge of the ABA's approach to legal education?

Think about it: the organization that accredits law schools won’t accredit the law school run by the guy who is the interim overseer of legal education. What the hell is the ABA doing? It’s like they’re running the Chewbacca defense. It’s like letting a guy with a suspended license teach driver’s ed.

What this shows is that, once again, that ABA has no actual plan to address the problems with legal education. They can’t even define the problems. Should they accredit more law schools, or fewer? Or more schools, but only of the high-cost, brick-and-mortar variety? Should they have higher minimum standards, so prospective law students don’t get fleeced? Or lower standards, since higher standards push up the cost of education? Or should they even give one flick about the cost of legal education at all?

You know what I’d settle for? A plan. ANY PLAN. I’d be happy if the ABA came out with any consistent approach to legal education that shows they have some ideas for addressing the issues that are facing prospective law students and recent graduates. Just pick an issue and fix it.

Because right now you can’t even say that the ABA is “hurting” things — it’s almost totally abdicated its responsibility in this area. Is the Department of Education looking at this train wreck? The organization that won’t accredit online legal education has an online guy advising it on legal education. You can’t make this stuff up.

ABA’s law school watchdog steps aside [National Law Journal]


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