Overseas law students hoping to earn an American Bar Association-accredited J.D. received bad news August 3, when the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar announced that it had voted unanimously not to enter the foreign-law school accreditation business.
The ABA verdict, revealed at the association's annual conference in Chicago, reflects the views of an "overwhelming majority" of the 700 law student-members of the ABA who responded to a survey, according to Lauren Acquaviva, the vice chairman of the association's Law Student Division.
"We are all aware that the job market is tough right now, though I do think it is better than it was last year and the year before," says Acquaviva, a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. "We don't need any extra competition."
Sam Smith, an incoming 1L at Georgetown University Law Center and a social media developer at George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science, has heard similar concerns.
"A lot of my peers entering law school, who are already frightened about their ability to get a job, would be even more frightened if all of a sudden there was an influx of ABA-accredited schools," Smith says.
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The ABA's decision shows that it takes students' concerns to heart, says Acquaviva, but she notes that only 700 of the 35,000 student-members of the ABA responded to the survey.
"We can do better than that," she says. "Law students need to speak up because the ABA wants to hear from them."
John O'Brien, the immediate past chairman of the ABA legal education section, hasn't heard student concerns about increased competition. The counsel decided that the timing wasn't right to take on foreign accreditation, says O'Brien, the dean of the New England School of Law in Boston.
O'Brien downplayed the significance of the counsel's decision, which he says is basically keeping a status quo in place. "It was an issue as to whether or not we were going to expand our jurisdiction, and the council felt this wasn't the time," he says.
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But if Twitter messages were any indication, the legal community views the ABA decision as significant and controversial.
"America continues to not want to recognise foreign law schools," Tweeted Nikhil Kanekal, a lawyer and journalist in India. And Ralston Champagnie, an entrepreneur in Louisiana, Tweeted, "It's disappointing that the ABA didn't approve of law schools abroad[,] such as other common law schools[,] sadly indeed."
But Yolanda Jackson, the deputy executive director at the Bar Association of San Francisco, Tweeted that the decision was "Keeping the 'A' in the ABA."
Linda Wendling, assistant dean of career services at North Carolina Central University School of Law, also took to Twitter after the announcement. "Thank goodness," she Tweeted in all caps. "ABA panel votes no on accrediting overseas law schools."
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