The federal Education Department recently opined that it may be wise for the American Bar Association to get out of the law school accreditation business. Now, on the one hand, there is an argument that we do not need to encourage the expansion of the law school business at the moment. On the other hand, the Education Department does not really specialize in legal education, and it is arguably better to leave accreditation decisions and the like to the ABA.
Not to tip my hand, but I’m going to start by playing devil’s advocate. The Education Department is not dedicated to legal education; rather, it focuses on all levels of schooling. The ABA, ostensibly, is the organization that is most in touch with the needs of the legal community and most aware of the training that students will need to succeed. The libertarians in the crowd will also say that the government should butt out of this particular issue, and leave it to the ABA to set the standards. Perhaps the legal education world does not need more bureaucracy, and we should allow the ABA to retain its accreditation responsibilities. As long as there is a demand for legal education, and “consumers” can make informed decisions, then we should not impinge on the accreditation decisions by the ABA.
Alright, now that I’ve tried to lay out the argument for letting the ABA do its thing, I’ll move on to a more palatable position. The law school business is failing right now. There is an oversaturation in the legal market, and supply of young lawyers is outstripping demand. The resulting unavailability of jobs in the legal profession is dooming many young graduates to suffer under the yolk of an oppressive debt load after mortgaging their futures for the prospect of a stable career. There are hosts of law schools that have no business being accredited. With abysmal bar passage rates and flagging employment numbers, many of these schools are doing, at best, a disservice to their students. As it stands, no school has ever been shut down for falling beneath required bar passage rates.
If the Education Department’s stinging report on the ABA and law school accreditation can light a fire under the ABA to actually monitor employment numbers and bar passage rights—and facilitate crackdown on severely underperforming law schools—then it is a first step toward fixing the ailments that riddle the bloated law school industry.
Ultimately, regardless of where this goes, students are the ones who have the real responsibility to make an informed decision. I am starting to sound more and more like a cynical, grumpy old man, but when it comes to spending years of your life and hundreds of thousands of your dollars, you have to make a realistic choice. Your GPA and LSAT might not tell your whole story, but you can’t think of yourself as a special snowflake for whom everything will just work out perfectly. If you are looking at schools that have a bar passage rate or employment rate that is on the wrong side of fifty percent, it shouldn’t matter whether that school is accredited or not.