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Indiana Tech begins ABA accreditation proccess

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After opening its doors and accepting its first class of students in August, Indiana Tech Law School has begun the process of applying for accreditation, a critical step that could determine whether the institution will be able to continue to attract and accept students.

Securing accreditation is a long and arduous process that spans several years and requires schools to prove that they meet the minimum standards as set by the American Bar Association Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar for providing a sound course of study that will prepare graduates to practice law.

Alexander Alexander

Indiana Tech Law School sent a letter in March notifying the ABA of its intent to seek accreditation and will submit a self-study in August which will explain what the school is about, where it wants to go and what challenges it faces. If the school does well it could have provisional approval by the end of the spring 2015 semester.

Peter Alexander, dean of the Indiana Tech Law School, applauds the ABA accreditation standards and believes the process should be robust.

“I’m glad for the rigor,” Alexander said. “It causes you to be your very best.”

The ABA council has been criticized for approving new law schools at a time when the legal profession is contracting and students are graduating with debt that many will struggle to repay. In addition, the accreditation standards have been accused of stifling innovation and hindering schools from experimenting.

Without a stringent accreditation system, said retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, academic standards at law schools would plummet. Indiana could even see the clock turned back to a time when all kinds of proprietary schools offered legal education.

Randall Shepard Shepard

Yet, he does see reason for giving schools a little maneuvering room to implement different models of education.

Shepard has served as chair of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and was a member of ABA’s Accreditation Policy Task Force.

Most recently, he chaired the ABA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education which took a sweeping view of how law schools prepare students to be attorneys. One of the aspects the task force reviewed was the accreditation standards.

The task force found a need to ease the uniformity among law schools. In particular, it suggested the ABA Section of Legal Education modify or eliminate standards that constrain law schools from innovating.

As an example, Shepard pointed to the requirement that full-time faculty teach the bulk of the credit hours. Revamping that standard to allow adjunct faculty to teach more classes would be worth trying, he said.

Meeting the standards

Over the last 10 years, the ABA Council has approved 11 new law schools and granted provisional approval to two.

One denial of a provisional accreditation made headlines when the institution, Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law in Tennessee, filed a lawsuit against the ABA. The school has since dropped the legal action and reapplied for approval.

Having ABA accreditation is vital since many states, including Indiana, only allow graduates of approved law schools to sit for the bar exam. However, law school deans note an equally important factor is the prestige that comes with accreditation.

“I think being ABA accredited gives the public confidence the education they’re going to receive is high quality and subject to peer review,” Alexander said. “This is a good thing.”

University of California, Irvine School of Law is undertaking the process of getting accredited even though graduates of unaccredited law schools can take that state’s bar exam. The school opened in 2009 with a class of 60 and was granted provisional approval in 2011.

chemerinsky-ewrin.jpg Chemerinsky

The ABA endorsement is necessary, said Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, to give the school prestige and help position it as a Top 20 institution. Still, going after accreditation did pose a risk. If UC Irvine School of Law had been denied provisional approval, its graduates would have been prohibited from sitting for the bar, he said.

In 2008, the ABA Council launched a comprehensive review of its “Standards for the Approval of Law Schools.” The purpose, according to a memo from the chair of the council, was to step back and look at the standards as a whole to see if they were appropriate and able to ensure a sound educational program that would prepare law school graduates for the legal profession.

The ABA Council released its proposed changes in mid-March. Many of the recommendations tweaked technical issues, but other suggestions were significant. The council could not reach a consensus on adjusting the tenure requirement but did give a push to hands-on learning by calling for an increase from one credit hour to six credit hours and allowing students to receive academic credit for paid externships.

“If we don’t have the standards right, then shame on us because we got the right people at the table,” said Barry Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education with the ABA. “There is a need for fair and appropriate standards to protect the interests and needs of the students and the public.”

Innovating without fear

Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, questioned whether the accreditation standards are hampering law schools from implementing reforms that would ultimately lower the cost to students.

He confessed he did not know the answer but maintained that the ABA standards are preventing law schools from being innovative. The ABA “legislating a single model of education” may make new law schools like Indiana Tech hesitant to be too different out of fear they won’t be accredited, McEntee said.

At UC Irvine School of Law, Chemerinsky said the standards have not been limiting. The school has “created a very innovative” curriculum for first-year students along with implementing other cutting-edge programs for the second- and third-year students.

“The innovations that they prevent – a small faculty and a large number of adjuncts, education primarily through distance learning and a two-year JD – are undesirable in terms of training lawyers,” Chemerinsky told Indiana Lawyer. “I cannot identify a single innovation that we have considered where the ABA rules were a problem in any way.”

Alexander hinted at a need for rethinking the standards to meet the changing uses of law degrees. He pointed to statistics which estimate that 10 percent of law school students say they have no intention of practicing law.

The ABA standards are geared to teaching students to serve clients in the traditional manner. Alexander proposed that as people look at a law degree as a gateway to other things, the ABA should relax some of its requirements.

Curbing costs

While presenting his task force’s findings in North Carolina, Shepard was asked about a common criticism of the accreditation process – why is the ABA approving new law schools when the economy is bad for lawyers?

Shepard answered with three words: “Sherman Antitrust Act.” The ABA would violate the act if it decided not to approve a school because it believed there was already too much competition.

Currier concurred, saying the ABA Council does not police and ration openings of new law schools. Instead, the council sees if the school meets the standards that will constitute a sound legal education.

McEntee holds a different view.

“I think we need more law schools,” he said. “It would increase competition on price and force schools to serve their local communities instead of trying to compete nationally.”•

The accreditation process

The American Bar Association Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar sets the minimum education standards for U.S. law schools, reviews the schools’ programs for compliance and approves or denies accreditation.

To gain provisional approval, new law schools must put together an exhaustive self-study and complete a site evaluation questionnaire.

Next, a site evaluation team will visit the institution for three days to observe classes and interview faculty, students and university officials. It will submit its findings to the ABA’s accreditation committee.

The committee will then hold a hearing at which representatives of the new law school will appear. The school must show it is in substantial compliance with each of the standards and must present a plan for becoming fully compliant within three years after receiving provisional approval.

If the accreditation committee finds the school meets the requirements, it will recommend provisional approval. If the accreditation committee determines the school is deficient in meeting the standards, it will recommend against provisional approval. The school then has the option of addressing the problems and reapplying.

With provisional accreditation, the school is entitled to all the rights of fully approved schools and its graduates are entitled to the same recognition that is given to graduates of fully approved schools.

A school with provisional approval has three to five years to gain full approval. During this period, the site evaluation team will continue to visit the campus to monitor the school.

The ABA Council makes the decision for granting full approval based on the findings and conclusions of the accreditation committee. Once the council gives full approval, the decision is final and effective immediately.•

Source: American Bar Association

 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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