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Revising accreditation standards for greater transparency for incoming law students

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Division-Update

Dear Esteemed Members of the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar,

We, the American Bar Association Law Student Division Council affirm that the American Bar Association can and should do more to protect potential law students and current law students as they seek to enter the legal profession. We also affirm that greater transparency, achieved through accreditation rules, will ensure that students can make informed decisions.

We, thus, call for the Council of the Section of Legal Education (“Council”) to increase the reporting requirements already authorized under Standard 509. Specifically, we call the Council to collect:

A) data on J.D. program completion and bar passage success by LSAT;
B) disaggregated borrowing data by graduating class, including subcategories by race and gender;
C) disaggregated data on the amount of tuition paid by class year (1L or upper-level), race, and gender; and
D) data on applicants and scholarships by gender and, to the extent the Section does not do so already, by race.

The Council may see the notice of censure, probation, and other actions as one proper way to alert the public about a law school’s inability to provide a suitable education. But this process requires significant discussion and time-consuming fact-finding by the Council. It is also not the only way to help students who are considering a particular institution. The information revealed by the above- and below-prescribed transparency will allow students to make more informed decisions.

Additionally, while Standard 509 requires all ABA-accredited law schools to publicly disclose data on their website, students must know to go and find the report. We call upon the Council to require information required by Standard 509 to be provided during the application process and with every admission letter. Despite the efforts of the Council to make ABA Required Disclosures prominent on school websites, we affirm that Standard 509 reports are not readily known by potential law students and should be presented in admissions letters in an effort to increase consumer protection.

We recognize LSAT scores do not determine a student’s bar passage success. We also recognize that law schools may be able to help all students, low LSAT score or not, prepare for the bar. A law school can take applicants with lower scores and help them to graduate with great success. Our request would allow potential law students to assess the school’s ability to do so. With declining bar passage, deans have recognized that law schools have either failed to deny entry to those who are not yet ready for the rigors of legal education or failed to properly train those to pass the bar. As such, incoming law students should be able to see whether law schools are truly able to train students to not only graduate but also to pass the bar.

We affirm that all potential students should be aware of the amount they will borrow, the amount of tuition they pay, and amount of scholarship a similarly-situated person may receive. Better borrowing data would provide a more complete picture of the actual cost of law schools. Additionally, breaking down the borrowing data by class year would ensure students become aware of upward trends in cost. Comparing tuition and scholarships by class year to the borrowing amount of that class year would allow students to properly assess their financial situation and choose a law school that would fit within their budget or their desired finances.

We affirm that diversity is important for the legal profession. Because law schools are one of the gatekeepers of the legal profession, we believe that potential law students looking for a school focused on diversity should know the school’s effort for greater diversity. While we applaud the Standard 509 report, including the number of minorities attending the law school, one barrier for minorities is financial.

As such, we request subcategories for race and gender for borrowing, tuition, and scholarships, because one data point for an entire school belies underlying trends for minorities. Public disclosure of such data would encourage law schools to change policies so that minorities will be provided better or equitable amounts of scholarship and be in a position to have equitable or lower amounts of borrowing. We believe that the legal profession is in greater need of minorities, and that such effort begins with law schools.

Finally, we endorse the Law School Transparency’s A Way Forward: Transparency in 2018 in full. We encourage the Council to read the Report which thoroughly details why the requested transparency requirements are of importance.

We thank the Council for the considerations of these requests.

Respectfully submitted,

Eun Hyung “Thomas” Kim
Chair, Law Student Division Council

Meredith Parnell
Law Student At-Large on the ABA Board of Governors

Samuel Chang
Director of Legal Education

Tijuana Barnes
Vice Chair, Law Student Division Council

Caitlin Peterson
Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates

Alissa Koenig
Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates

John Weber
Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates

ABA Law Student Division The Law Student Division empowers law student by providing them with meaningful connections to practicing professionals, job resources, relevant programming, and practical skills competitions. We represent the law student community by advocating for policies that improve legal education, champion diversity, and strengthen public service.