Paul L. Caron

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dean Calls for Charter Law Schools

The Faculty Lounge:  Loosening the ABA's Grip on Law Schools, by David Yellen (Dean, Loyola-Chicago):

The ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools establish the basic framework within which almost all law schools operate.  Many aspects of the Standards are appropriate and unobjectionable.  However, in too many respects the Standards operate as a significant impediment to the kind of experimentation and change that is needed in legal education. ...

One problem is that the Standards are too law faculty-centric.  They reflect too much of what deans and professors think legal education should be, rather than what is truly necessary to ensure quality.  To some extent, this is probably an inevitable consequence of self-regulation.  However, the Standards are more protective of faculty prerogatives than the rules of any other accreditor.   

For example, the Standards require that full time faculty teach substantially all of the first-year curriculum and a "major portion" of the entire curriculum.  Although the language of the rules is murky, there is an expectation that a large percentage of the faculty will be on tenure-track or have long term contracts.  Every school must have a scholarly mission and devote resources to that undertaking.  To give you one of my favorite examples, when I was on the Standards Review Committee, I was thoroughly rebuffed in my effort to have removed from a draft standard a requirement that each full time faculty member have an individual office.  Office sharing exists throughout the economy today.  Do law professors really have a right to insist on an individual office as a precondition for a school's existence? ...

Another path to reform might be drawn from the charter school movement.  Charter schools receive significant relief from regulatory rules in exchange for being closely evaluated based upon a set of agreed-upon goals.   The ABA Standards have an infrequently used (and nontransparent) variance mechanism.  The Section should consider allowing a small number of existing or newly created schools to propose a detailed plan for operating a quality law school without being governed by many of the more onerous Standards.  The success or failure of these schools could be monitored and studied, and sensible reforms to the Standards could emerge.

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I'm sure the author means well, but this sounds to me like the argument that Wall Street would perform better if only it were deregulated, and I'm afraid it may have essentially the same results.

Posted by: michael livingston | Feb 24, 2013 8:06:05 AM

Maybe. Having experimented with different staffing models, we now attempt to staff the core courses in our Tax LLM program with full-time faculty. Adjuncts are wonderful, but their first priority must always be their practice obligations. In our JD program, we've experimented as well, primarily in the staffing of major bar courses like Remedies and Trusts and Wills. Again, we've concluded that full-time faculty instruction is, on average, notably superior.

This does not necessarily mean that the additional benefits are worth the additional costs. I would note, however, that California-accredited law schools already follow Yellen's model, permitting such schools to charge tuition a fraction of that charged by ABA-accredited schools. Their bar passage rates are dismal; almost no one who can get into an ABA-accredited school chooses the many alternatives permitted by California's extremely flexible legal education rules.

Yellen's fixation on whether faculty should have individual offices astonishes me. Perhaps he's been a dean for too long. Has he ever tried to write class notes or scholarship with someone else in the room answering student questions? The practical effect of doubling up is that faculty would work at home -- not particularly helpful for students.

In any event, for most schools space is not a high-cost item. Donors love donating space. (It's getting them to donate for other purposes that's the problem.) Even if a school has to acquire space in the market, costs are often quite low. In our neighborhood, commercial space rents for less than $2 per square foot. The savings effected by doubling up on offices would be less than $400 per year per faculty member.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Feb 24, 2013 7:49:25 AM