Monday, December 6, 2010

Should Foreign Law Schools Receive American Accreditation?

This issue has been before the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions, which is the accrediting body for American Law Schools. Last July, a special committee reported to the Council. After assessing the pros and cons, the committee made these recommendations: 

            (1) The Council should authorize the Accreditation Project to go forward with considering the accreditation of law schools outside the United States borders that meet all of the prevailing Section Accreditation Standards and Rules of Procedure for the policy reasons discussed in Part I. 

            (2) The Council should request the Standards Review Committee in its ongoing comprehensive review to look at all the Standards to ensure that none of them unintentionally sets up barriers to this geographic expansion and to remove any such barriers that do not implicate the substantive standards ensuring a quality legal education. 

            (3) The Council should consider drafting a policy statement to clarify the matters highlighted in Part II that deal with the underlying assumptions in the current standards, such as that the curriculum is primarily focused on U.S. law, the instruction is primarily in English, and the faculty are primarily J.D. graduates of ABA approved law schools.

            (4) If the Council agrees with the preceding recommendations, recognizing that it is very difficult to consider in a vacuum all the issues that may arise when the Section has not before entered this arena, the Council should consider whether it might be advisable to allow a site visit on a trial basis of a foreign applicant school that wants to see whether it can meet all the standards.

 The reservations seem to be insuring the quality of education at foreign schools and the possibility that the schools will lead to a flood of foreign lawyers entering the U.S. and competing for scarce jobs.

 In the face of concerns raised by a  number of  U.S. law deans, the Council has postponed a decision to move forward:

Consistent with the first recommendation of the Kane Committee report and in view of the comments received by the Council with respect to that report, I move that the Council continue with its consideration of the approval of foreign law schools and engage in our consideration appropriate public and private stakeholders, for example, the Conference of Chief Justices, state bar examiners, legal educators, representatives of the legal profession, and public officials. Until the Council has fully vetted the issue as to whether to expand the accreditation role of the Section to encompass law schools located outside of the U.S. and its territories, the section will not proceed with consideration of any application for provisional approval from a foreign law school.

            It seems to me  that globalization of legal education inevitably follows  on the  heels of the globalization of the legal practice.  There’s no point in delaying on the issue.


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