Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

New rules for schools

By: Heath Hamacher//August 29, 2014

New rules for schools

By: Heath Hamacher//August 29, 2014

Law schools are sizing up recent changes to American Bar Association accreditation standards

Changes are coming down the American Bar Association pipeline but South Carolina’s law school leaders say they expect to be minimally affected.

On Aug. 11 in Boston — after six years of comprehensive review — the ABA’s House of Delegates voted in new standards and Rules of Procedure for accrediting U.S. law schools. Local officials believe many of the changes amount to housekeeping.

Rob Wilcox, dean of the University of South Carolina School of Law, said USC Law committees are still studying the revisions to “get a good catalog” of the changes and understand the full effect.

One of the more deliberated revisions, Standard 303(a), increases the total number of required credit hours for experiential training courses — simulation courses, law clinics or field placements — from one to six.

Wilcox said USC will likely need to make some adjustments.

“Our clinics are typically four credit hours and we’re either going to have to change the credits for a clinic or we’re going to have to do multiple experiences to get that credit,” Wilcox said. “But the changes are all consistent with the direction we’ve been moving anyway. We won’t have to dramatically shift direction.”

Charleston School of Law spokesman Andy Brack believes the institution, which won its accreditation in 2011, already meets this requirement.

“This law school requires every student to have at least 30 hours of public service before we graduate them, so it appears we comply with that,” he said.

The ABA also aims to measure student learning outcomes and evaluate individual programs more objectively by using multiple methods including the review of school records, the evaluation of student learning portfolios, student input regarding the sufficiency of their education and student performance in capstone courses or similar courses.

The association is also placing emphasis is also being placed on possible methods such as placement rates; surveys of attorneys, judges and alumni; assessment of student performance by judges, attorneys or law professors from other schools and bar passage rates.

These are guidelines, and the interpretation makes it clear that schools are not bound by a particular methodology in order to comply with the new standards.

Another provision, Standard 306(e), raises the number of credit hours a law school can award a student for distance learning from 12 to 15.

But for both USC and Charleston, the adjustment means little since neither school currently offers distance learning.

“We have not attempted to put a significant part of the J.D. program online in any way and I have been reluctant to do it for reasons of quality,” Wilcox said. “We just have not been confident that the experiences are equivalent.”

Nor does Wilcox expect that USC will take advantage of a standard that would allow USC — and other schools with both undergraduate and J.D. programs — to fill up to 10 percent of its first-year class with students who have not taken the Law School Admission Test.

“We have no plans at this point to do that,” Wilcox said. “The LSAT is not a determinative indicator but is a significantly valid measure. To me, it is one more piece of information I would like to have consistent across the board and we can decide internally how much importance we ascribe to it for each applicant, given the rest of the file they present.”

Brack said the standard does not apply to Charleston since it is a separate entity with no undergraduate program from which to admit students.

The revised standards and rules took immediate effect, and while the ABA expects schools to implement new rules immediately, it said in a statement that it realizes schools will need time bring certain standards into compliance.

As such, the association established a transition and implementation plan—a “phase-in” period—that states in part that law school visits in 2014-2015 will primarily rely on the old standards.

Wilcox said that USC is seeking clarification on one revision, Standard 310, outlining the determination of coursework credit hours. While USC has traditionally held 60-minute classes during its 13-week semesters, Standard 310(1) says a credit hour “reasonably approximates” “…not less than one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and two hours of out-of-class student work per week for fifteen weeks, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time.”

“Then it says ‘or the equivalent amount’ of time…it’s a question of whether it actually makes a change or just phrases it a different way,” Wilcox said. “We’ll be studying that to make sure we’re in compliance. I’m hoping that ‘or the equivalent amount’ will be all right.”

The only revision not concurred upon was Standard 305 which forbids the granting of academic credit for a field placement program for which a student is compensated. The provision will be reconsidered by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @SCLWHamacher

Business Law

See all Business Law News


See all Commentary


How Is My Site?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...