Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Dave Hoffman's Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky: Eliminate ABA's Role in Accrediting Law Schools

Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question:  What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?

HoffmanDavid Hoffman (Associate Professor of Law, Temple University, James E. Beasley School of Law; Editor, Concurring Opinions blog):

To survive in global economy, American law schools need more freedom to make radical changes. Take as a cautionary example the WSJ's recent story on the legal job market: clearly for many, the J.D. is a low-return investment. In an ideal world, law schools would respond by convincing Bar Associations to permit more lawyer advertising. This change would justify certificate programs, in turn reducing the opportunity costs of the J.D. Given a world where specialization could be advertised, law schools might permit some students to graduate "early" – in 18 months or two years - and receive the ordinary juris doctor degree (the "OJD"). Others would stay for longer and earn certificates in business, discovery-management, or arbitration. The most committed students would stay the longest and earn advanced degrees in tax, or "legal scholarship."

But such reforms are impractical under our current licensing scheme, which creates a set of immutable rules that discourage innovation. The Bar's accreditation standards increase the cost of legal education and reduce competition between lawyers. They make it impossible to create a true laboratory of law schools, competing for student dollars by offering the best value. Thus, the "single best idea" for reforming legal education is the one that makes all others possible: to eliminate the Bar's accreditation role. This is not to say that we don't need any kind of accreditation – we do, but it should not be one run by our guild. Instead, we should seek an accreditor that would embrace an experimental approach to legal education.

For all the posts in the series, see here.

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The ABA is the symptom, not the problem. The Department of Education is the problem. Without a DOE-recognized accrediting body, federal funding disappears. No more (federal) work-study funding. Take away the ABA, and we are left with the "usual suspects"--the bodies that already accredit colleges and universities. Those bodies are likely to be even less sensitive to the concerns of the profession, and of the law schools. I don't think that we'd be "trading up." And, there's always the AALS....

Posted by: Gary Rosin | Oct 11, 2007 7:55:12 PM

It is not at all clear that discontinuing the ABA's hegemony over accrediting law schools is a dumber idea than perpetuating it. Let each state accredit law schools that operate within its boundaries. The marketplace will winnow out the losers soon enough -- exactly what happens now with the ABA holding a monopoly on accreditation. In fact, if ABA accreditation were voluntary rather than mandatory, it presumably would be fairly priced in the market. Law schools that want the ABA "seal of approval" could opt in; others could opt out. Simply attempting such a restructuring of the accreditation regime would be a fascinating experiment. It might yield data regarding the value of ABA accreditation. Precisely why the ABA would oppose the idea.

Posted by: Jake | Oct 3, 2007 8:29:56 PM

The dumbest idea to date. 6000 new law schools would be a huge problem for the legal profession and just saturate the market even more so. Additionally, it would make the profession a joke if someone could get a degree in 18 months. Where did you come up with this stuff, chiropractic school?

Posted by: Scott | Oct 3, 2007 6:56:31 PM