January ABA Standards Review Committee Meeting

This weekend, January 8-9, the ABA Standards Review Committee (“SRC”) will hold their quarterly meeting in San Francisco, CA. The meeting comes at the end of the annual AALS conference this week, during which law faculty meet in groups to discuss various facets of legal education. It is also the second SRC meeting at which a newly-established subcommittee will report on Standard 509.

During this meeting, the SRC will not focus exclusively on reforming schools’ employment reporting, in contrast with the Questionnaire Committee in December (recap here). Instead, the SRC will hear from all of its subcommittees in turn. You can view most of their reports here.

Of particular importance for our readers will be tomorrow afternoon’s report by Dean David Yellen of Loyola-Chicago, chair of the Subcommittee on Standard 509. This subcommittee was established last summer to look more closely at what changes the SRC should make to Standard 509, otherwise known as the consumer protection provision of the Accreditation Standards.

As with the rest of the Standards, if a school does not comply with both the standard and its accompanying interpretations, the school can be sanctioned and potentially stripped of their accreditation by the ABA. Because of this, the SRC is expected to take slow, careful steps with any of the subcommittee’s proposed changes. There will be a comment window after the SRC puts together its draft changes, during which the ABA will encourage public participation (and may potentially hold hearings, similar to the Questionnaire Committee last month). LST will be involved in this process.

Reform may still be in its early stages, but it’s important to monitor this initial progress before the ABA solicits comments so that the public is fully informed. Dean Yellen and his 509 team only made their first report a few months ago, at the SRC’s November meeting. Per a response we received from an ABA representative, the minutes from that meeting should be available for public viewing as soon as the SRC approves them. We are also hoping to listen in tomorrow via conference call, since the meeting is public and we are unable to make it to San Francisco (help LST travel to these events).

For now, below are the relevant portions of 509 and the interpretations as they currently apply to ABA approved law schools. If you have suggestions for how the subcommittee might improve the standards to ensure better reporting on employment outcomes, please do not hesitate to contact them. Additionally, if you believe your law school has violated the existing Standard 509—particularly 509(a)’s fair and accurate requirement, which is emphasized in Interpretations 509-2 and 509-4—you should check out the ABA’s complaint procedures here.

(a) A law school shall publish basic consumer information. The information shall be
published in a fair and accurate manner reflective of actual practice.

. . .

Interpretation 509-1
The following categories of consumer information are considered basic:
(1) admission data;
(2) tuition, fees, living costs, financial aid, and refunds;
(3) enrollment data and graduation rates;
(4) composition and number of faculty and administrators;
(5) curricular offerings;
(6) library resources;
(7) physical facilities; and
(8) placement rates and bar passage data.

Interpretation 509-2
To comply with its obligation to publish basic consumer information under the first sentence of this Standard, a law school may either provide the information to a publication designated by the Council or publish the information in its own publication. If the school chooses to meet this obligation through its own publication, the basic consumer information shall be published in a manner comparable to that used in the Council-designated publication, and the school shall provide the publication to all of its applicants.

. . .

Interpretation 509-4
Standard 509 requires a law school fairly and accurately to report basic consumer information whenever and wherever that information is reported or published. A law school’s participation in the Council-designated publication referred to in Interpretation 509-2 and its provision of fair and accurate information for that book does not excuse a school from the obligation to report fairly and accurately all basic consumer information published in other places or for other purposes.

[emphasis added throughout]