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August 17, 2011
A Bit More on Senator Grassley And The ABA
I wrote yesterday about the most recent letter Senator Charles Grassley sent to the ABA seeking additional information about the organization’s oversight of law schools in regard to mounting graduate debt and poor job prospects. See my post Grassley to ABA: I'm Not Going Away That Easily. I want to point out that the ABA is not completely ignoring the problem. The House of Delegates passed two resolutions at the last general meeting in Toronto that touch on the problem.
The first is Resolution 111-A which calls on the federal government to provide financial assistance to those with huge piles of debt. This would take the form of extended repayment terms, payments based on income, and better terms for deducting loan interest on income taxes. The second half calls on the financial industry to offer voluntary relief for those saddled with debt. I can't imagine Congress doing any of this given the revenue situation and the recent fight over raising the debt ceiling. Banks have an obligation to stockholders, so I don't see them changing their business practices.
The second is Resolution 111-B. It “urges” law schools to provide more detailed employment data such as “whether graduates have obtained full-time or part-time employment within the legal profession, whether in the private or public sector, or whether in alternative professions and whether such employment is permanent or temporary.” The resolution additionally calls for reporting salary information, the costs associated with law school, and making it available to prospective students on a school’s web site. Another section “urges” the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar to consider revising the Standards for Approval of Law Schools to require these reports. A provision “urging” the Section to add this reporting to the Annual Questionnaire all law schools complete is struck out.
I suppose “urging” is taking a stand on the issue, though it probably has the same effect as a lawyer urging a jury to find his or her client not guilty. The call to action is a good one but it comes off a bit squeamish is requiring attention to the problem. One part of Senator Grassley’s letter I didn’t highlight in yesterday’s post is the last two questions:
9. The Section also states, “[R]egardless 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.” Please explain how a more restrictive accreditation standard would “deny access to the legal profession” and would violate the law.
10. The Department of Education’s policies for accreditation standards, which you have provided in attachment #3, specifically cite “job placement rates” as a standard by which to accredit institutions. Is it your opinion that this section of the statute grants the ABA the power to craft regulations which would consider “job placement rates” as a standard by which to determine accreditation of individual law schools?
Why can’t the ABA take economic data into account when establishing accreditation standards? The earlier responses to Senator Grassley suggest the ABA doesn’t want to react to current economic conditions. Isn’t it possible, however, to craft standards that account for good times as well as bad? “Requiring” schools to report law school costs compared to graduate prospects may be the better way to inform prospective law students and then leave the decision with them. Since I don’t have the same leverage that the ABA has with itself, all I can do is “urge” them to be more proactive on jobs and debts. Coverage on the resolutions is in the ABA Journal. [MG]