Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

ABA Council Contemplates Expanded Powers, New Distance Ed Rules

Following up on my previous post, ABA Fast Tracks Proposal To Waive Accreditation Standards Due To COVID-19:  Karen Sloan (, ABA Council Contemplates Expanded Powers, New Distance Ed Rules:

ABA Section On Legal Education (2016)The American Bar Association began mulling changes to its law school accreditation rules surrounding distance education long before COVID-19 forced all classes online this spring.

But the question of how to regulate remote learning has become particularly relevant and pressing with administrators contemplating what legal education will look like next academic year if the pandemic prevents in-person classes from resuming.

Distance education standards take center stage May 15 when the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar meets virtually to discuss modifying the way it approves programs that fall outside the traditional in-class format.

The ABA has characterized the proposal as a modest change that won’t drastically alter how such programs are approved, but others believe it will prompt more schools to pursue online J.D. programs under the belief that they will encounter less accreditation red tape.

The council also will consider a proposed rule change that would expand its ability to suspend specific accreditation standards amid regional and national emergencies, including pandemics and weather disasters. That proposed rule would authorize the council to “adopt emergency policies and procedures in response to extraordinary circumstances in which compliance with the standards would create or constitute extreme hardship for multiple law schools.” The council took a step in that direction in March when it issued a guidance memo that cleared the way for law schools to exceed the existing limits on distance education during the spring semester, but the proposed rule goes further. ...

The council is also slated to discuss a proposal by the Society of American Law Teachers that it suspend enforcement of its bar pass standard during the coronavirus outbreak. That rule mandates that at least 75% of a school’s graduates pass the bar within two years, or the school risks losing its accreditation. SALT’s letter argues that the pandemic’s upheaval of the bar exam this July means that pass rates will not be an objective measure of law school quality.

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