ABA legal ed council seeking comment on proposal to give accreditation to online-only schools

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Public comment is now being accepted on a proposal from an American Bar Association council to allow fully online law schools to apply for an earn provisional and full ABA approval.

The ABA Counsel of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions is accepting comment through Jan. 8, 2024, on proposed revisions to Standards 701 and 702. The proposed revisions would remove the word “facilities” from the standards in favor of broader language like “operations” that would encompass technology.

“I applaud the working group for coming up with this proposal,” Steven C. Bahls, president emeritus, said during a November meeting of the council, according to the National Law Journal. “It’s something that other professional creditors have done some time ago. And I believe that the American Bar Association is an outlier here, and I am particularly attracted by your argument that this creates an opportunity for some to reduce the cost of legal education and may enable some rural areas without access for law schools to enter the profession to serve our underserved areas.”

Under the proposed revision to Standard 701, law schools would be required to have “adequate operations,” rather than “facilities.”

“A law school need not have a physical campus, provided it can show that its operations, equipment, technology, and technology support are adequate to enable it to operate in compliance with the Standards and carry out its program of legal education,” Interpretation 701-2 says.

As for Rule 702, the proposal would require law schools to ensure the availability of suitable rooms for in-person classes, specifically, rather than “all” classes.

Also, schools would have to ensure the availability of “a law library that is suitable and sufficient in size, location, and design in relation to the law school’s programs and enrollment to accommodate the needs of the students and faculty accessing the library remotely as well as any on-site students and faculty and the law library’s on-site services, collections, staff, operations, and equipment.”

According to Interpretation 702-4, “A law school may ensure that faculty or staff who work remotely have ‘suitable and sufficient’ space or office space by ensuring that (a) the faculty or staff member is using appropriate and reliable technology and (b) the faculty or staff member has a quiet and private space in which to work.”

The proposed changes would be significant for Purdue Global Law School, a fully online law school that lacks ABA accreditation.

At the state level, the Indiana Supreme Court is accepting comment on its proposal to allow graduates of non-ABA-accredited law schools, like Purdue Global, to take the state bar exam.

The Indiana State Bar Association is supporting that proposal.

“It is exciting to see that the amended standards under consideration by the ABA recognize the growing prominence of online legal education,” Martin Pritikin, dean of Purdue Global Law, told Law.com last month following the council’s vote, according to the NLJ. “If the ABA were to adopt this, it would be a major step in the right direction toward expanding access to legal education for those who, due to work or dependent care commitments, military service, physical limitations, geography or other life circumstances prevent them from attending law school in person.”

The council is also seeking comment on proposed changes to Standard 304, Experiential Courses: Simulation Courses, Law Clinics, and Field Placements, and Standard 405, Professional Environment.

“In terms of substantive changes related to field placements, subsections (a) and (d) were revised to convey that both faculty and site supervisors are obligated to supervise and provide feedback to students participating in field placements,” a memo says of the Standard 304 proposal.

Further, “Several changes were made to Standard 405, all with the goal of improving employment security and participation in law school governance for non-tenured or non-tenure-track faculty. Many revisions were based on proposals by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) and the Legal Writing Institute (LWI); further revisions were made to reduce numbers of faculty ‘tiers’ at law schools,” according to the memo.

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