American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, 2019-2020 Annual Report: The Year in Review:
From The Managing Director (William E. Adams, Jr.):
2019-2020 was both a transitional year and one with unprecedented challenges for the Council and the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The Council continued to implement the new committee structure in assuming the work of the now-eliminated Accreditation and Standards Review Committees. The staff worked on new forms and processes to provide support to the Council with its increased workload. The results demonstrate that the Council can handle all of the accreditation work and by doing so, have a more streamlined and efficient accreditation process that benefits the schools and the public.
Transitions also have occurred in the office. Barry Currier stepped away from the Managing Director Role in April. After a national search, Accreditation Counsel Stephanie Giggetts was selected to assume the Deputy Managing Director position. After another national search, Manager of Law School Analytics, Dr. Kirsten Winek, was selected to assume the Accreditation Counsel position. Pursuant to another national search, Molly Wilensky has accepted the Manager of Law School Analytics position. Molly will join the office having previously served as Career Services Director at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.
As with the rest of society, legal education was disrupted by the COVID-19 virus. Schools were forced to move to online instruction. Our Deans’ and Associate/Assistant Deans’ listservs were busy with schools sharing tips and suggestions in how to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances wrought by the virus. It was encouraging to see the schools assist each other, and I am glad that we could provide a venue for them to do so.
The Council quickly approved variance applications for law schools to move to online instruction in the spring. In the summer, it approved applications for the fall and spring. It also proposed and approved new Standard and Bylaw amendments to permit schools to temporarily exceed relevant standards during an emergency. It also:
- Approved priorities for the coming fiscal year that began Sept. 1. The goals include looking at issues involving lawyer well-being and professional responsibility; equity, diversity, and inclusion, including bias, cultural competency, and concrete actions; and distance education.
- Announced that it will review unsettled agenda items from the past few years, including Standard 501 in regard to the types of evidence a law school may proffer to demonstrate its sound admissions policies; Standard 503’s requirement for a valid and reliable admissions test for applicants; and Standard 507 regarding its objectives concerning student loan data concerning what should be collected and published.
The Council invited groups and others interested in legal education to a virtual roundtable meeting to discuss the priority issues identified above as well as issues concerning transparency and admissions tests. The event provided a broad attendance of groups and individuals with an interest in legal education to provide input to the Council. The conversations were engaging and helpful. We hope to have more of these in the future. A summary of the comments made at the recent roundtable has been posted on the Section website.
Because of travel restrictions and the hazards of in-person contact imposed by the virus, site visits in late spring had to be postponed and site visits for this academic year will be conducted virtually. The staff has worked on revising the site visit documents and developed instructions for teams and schools. Training was held in late August for site chairs, new site evaluators, and school representatives. The staff will conduct a call with fall site chairs to discuss any tips or suggestions that can be offered to chairs of spring site visits. The staff will analyze the results of the visits and determine if the site visit process should be changed in the future to include a virtual component.
As legal education faced unprecedented situations with the pandemic, the office and the Council was confronted with the challenge of figuring out how schools could adjust to the situation within the requirements of the Standards. Understandably, schools had numerous questions and issues. I cannot express enough my appreciation to 2019-2020 Chair Diane Bosse and 2020-2021 Chair Scott Bales for their wise counsel and assistance through the spring and summer. They were unfailingly patient with near daily calls in the spring as we tried to determine how to assist schools while ensuring that our obligation to ensure that students could continue to receive quality instruction under trying circumstances was met. They, along with 2020-2021 Chair-Elect Leo Martinez, continue to assist me this fall.
I also want to recognize and thank the staff in the Managing Director’s Office for their contributions and flexibility in adjusting to our new challenges, including working remotely. I am particularly grateful to Stephanie Giggetts, Ed Butterfoss, and the rest of our talented team for their guidance, support, and hard work under trying circumstances. I could not have made the adjustment to my new position without their assistance.
As always, it is an honor and a pleasure to work with the Council, the staff, my colleagues in the other national legal education organizations, law school deans, and the many volunteers from law schools and the profession who support our work. Thank you all very much.