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General News    H3'ed 2/20/09

Needless ABA Requirements Drive Up Law School Costs

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By requiring law schools to hire more full-time professors and add new buildings, the American Bar Association(ABA) is driving up the cost of a legal education to unprecedented levels, two legal education reformers say.

Tuitions at some ABA-accredited law schools have breached the $40,000 per year mark, forcing many students to assume debts that will take years to pay off.

The matter is so dire that university presidents “describe a situation where the ABA would…threaten…disaccreditation of the law school if they would not play ball,” write Lawrence Velvel and Kurt Olson in their new book “The Gathering Peasants’ Revolt In American Legal Education”(Doukathsan). Velvel is cofounder and dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover(MSL) and Olson is an assistant professor of law at the school.

 “Disaccreditation would mean that the law school’s graduates would not be able to sit for the bar, and the school thus could not continue to exist,” they write.

 They quote Kenneth Pye, formerly acting president of Duke University as saying the ABA’s conduct “sometimes makes it appear to (university) presidents more like the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers than an accrediting organization.”

Other critics have bluntly described the ABA as a “guild” to enrich law school professors. Velvel and Olson charge the ABA has drastically lowered the permissible student to full time faculty ratio, “thus forcing schools to double or triple the number of expensive full time faculty members. At the same time, the ABA’s method of calculating the ratio would not permit even the fractional counting of adjunct faculty members, thus reducing an institution’s ability to reduce costs by using far less expensive part-time faculty members, even judges and expert practitioners.”

In a secret student-to-faculty standard that is far more stringent than the written one known to the public, Velvel and Olson write, the ABA has pressured deans to adopt a 15 to 1 or even a 12 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio.

“The (ABA) Standards also forbade professors from doing administrative work, thus forcing schools to hire numerous non faculty deans, admissions personnel, recruiting personnel, loan personnel, and placement personnel,” the co-authors say.

Velvel and Olson go on to write, “The ABA also forced almost all schools to build brand new physical facilities or to renovate existing facilities, all costing millions of dollars…”(that) “drove tuitions to the astronomical levels they have reached today.” The authors say big name law schools like Harvard, Yale, Chicago and Columbia, etc., “could have broken up the ABA’s stranglehold on legal education” but have “almost always” gone along because ABA’s system  “was increasing law school salaries generally, reducing faculty workloads, increasing the length of vacation time and sabbaticals, and generally pampering the professoriate.”

Deans of less established law schools are “frightened” to criticize the ABA system as “they feared the ABA would retaliate by taking steps to disaccredit their schools,” Velvel and Olson write.

Dean Velvel, a cofounder of MSL, has been honored for his work in legal education reform by The National Law Journal and cited as one of the leading reformers in the field by National Jurist magazine. MSL was founded to provide a quality legal education to minority students and those from low-income households who could not otherwise afford a legal education. Its tuition is about half that charged by typical New England law schools.                                                        # (Sherwood Ross is a media consultant for the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. Reach him at )   

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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