Saturday, August 18, 2012

Accrediting Overseas Law Schools

Recently, the ABA’s accrediting body declined to permit accrediting overseas law schools. The debate, however, will surely continue. Mary Campbell Gallagher, bar exam coach and member of the New York Bar Association Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, sent a letter to the National Law Journal listing some additional reasons against accreditation (in her personal capacity). She also serves as chair of her committee’s subcommittee on ABA accreditation of overseas law schools.

To the Editor:
Accreditation of a law school by the American Bar Association is a necessary condition for that school’s graduates to sit for most state bar examinations in the United States.

The New York State Bar Association Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Profession has opposed ABA accreditation of overseas law schools. (“ABA again wades into the fraught issue of accrediting overseas law schools,” National Law Journal, August 1, 2012)

First, according to statistics from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, in 2011, New York State examined 4,427 foreign-trained candidates, while California, with the next-largest number, examined only 764, and a few other states had a handful of foreign-trained applicants. The Court of Appeals of New York State, with assistance from the staff of the Board of Law Examiners, gathers experience as it evaluates programs of study from overseas law schools and U.S. law schools with overseas programs. Schools wishing their graduates to sit for the New York bar examination can seek recognition of their programs under Rule 520.6(1)(i) or petition for an exception to the specifics of that rule.

To have two forms of approval, one national and the other exclusively for New York State, would be inefficient and confusing.

Second, securing licenses for the graduates of one foreign law school does not justify disrupting established systems of legal licensing world-wide. Under Rule 520.6, New York State already has among the most liberal rules in the world for permitting foreign law graduates to take its bar exam. Foreign law schools should be able to figure out a way to make their programs consonant with Rule 520.6.

Third, the New York State Bar Association Committee has already expressed to the ABA its view that New York does not require (or welcome) the involvement of the ABA in the decision about the circumstances under which an education obtained at a non-US law school is sufficient to allow the candidate to sit for the New York bar examination, or about what further study might be required.  We are not aware of the California Bar requesting assistance from the ABA in this regard either.  Hence we view the repeated pushes for the ABA’s involvement, spear-headed as these always are by representatives of foreign law schools, rather than by the bar examiners of the states involved, to be an attempt by those local schools to get around the established procedures of the bars of the various states, including the procedures set up by our own Court of Appeals.  I see no reason for the ABA to take that role.


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