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Published: October 1, 2020

What is the ABA?

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a trade organization for lawyers. It has many sections, centers, and divisions. Decision-making for the organization is concentrated in the Office of the President, the House of Delegates, and the Board of Governors.

The House of Delegates is like a legislature. They vote on items that become official policies for the ABA. The Board of Governors (38 members) has the authority to act and speak for the ABA, consistent with previous action of the House of Delegates, when the House is not in session. It oversees the general operation of the ABA and develops specific plans of action. The Board includes the ABA's president, a person elected to a one-year term two years in advance. An executive director oversees the ABA's permanent staff.

The Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar is one of the ABA's sections. It's the section that has accreditation authority, not the ABA itself. The relationship used to be closer, but a Department of Justice investigation in the 1990s led to separation.

Like the ABA, the Section of Legal Education has a political arm and a staff arm. The staff arm is small and is usually referred to as the "professional staff." Bill Adams is the managing director.

The Council of the Section of Legal Education is the section's governing arm. It has law school accreditation authority, along with its accreditation committee. The Council has a chair, on a one-year term (elected two years in advance), and a large body of individuals serving three-year terms.

The Council has a number of subcommittees with vary responsibilities, from collecting data on annual questionnaires to enforcing the accreditation standards. The ABA accreditation standards must be approved by the Council. Once the standards go through notice and comment and the Council approves proposals, the ABA House of Delegates votes. The House's approval is not the final say; if it does not approve a proposed standard, the Council may reconsider it and finalize approval despite the House's action.

Why does the ABA Section of Legal Education keep accrediting new law schools?

The Section of Legal Education does not view itself as a gatekeeper whose role it is to balance supply and demand. Indeed, they may not legally be able to do so without a broader grant of authority from the Department of Education or anti-trust exemption from Congress. If a school meets the accreditation standards, they are obligated to accredit.