ABA to vote on changes to law school rules

BALTIMORE (AP) - The American Bar Association is poised to adopt new law school accreditation standards at its annual meeting, but Maryland's law schools say they're ahead of the game.

For the most part, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law already meet the requirements the ABA's House of Delegates is expected to vote on this month, officials at both schools said.

The new standards include at least six credit hours of experiential learning, such as clinics or externships, and tracking of "student learning outcomes."

At the University of Maryland, Associate Dean for Students and Student Services Susan Krinsky said the learning-outcomes requirement is addressed in the syllabus for each course, which clearly outline the knowledge students are expected to gain.

"It's not, at least here, going to be a dramatic change . ," Krinsky said. "If I looked at 100 syllabi, I would guess that 97 already have (the outline)."

Likewise, both schools already emphasize the value of real-world experience.

"That's a bedrock of the University of Baltimore law school experience," said Victoria Schultz, the school's associate dean for administration.

The fall 2014 entering class at UB Law will be the first required to complete six hours of experiential learning, Schultz said.

"At least three of those credits have to come from an experience that involves actual clients, either at a clinic or externship. We're already committed to doing that, so the passage of the (ABA) standard is following the direction we've already gone."

Students at the University of Maryland are required to complete at least one experiential project, Krinsky said, and many choose clinics that surpass the six-credit minimum.

Not all of the ABA's new standards would be tougher on the law schools. The proposed revision would also abolish the required student-to-faculty ratio of at least one full-time equivalent faculty member for every 30 students.

However, both Maryland schools said their ratios will continue to be competitive, whether or not the ABA requires it.

"We're constantly looking at what the student experience is at the law school, and how best to help our students gain a deep understanding of the law, and faculty-student ratios can be important for that experience," Schultz said. "We have a lot of small classes, and I think that's important, whether that's an ABA-mandated requirement or not."

Krinsky estimated the ratio at the University of Maryland is about one faculty member for every 12 or 14 students.

"I don't really see that changing," she said. "We want to make sure that we have the faculty to teach what we need to teach."

Officials at both schools did express concern about another element of the proposed standards, which would require schools to allow students to work more than 20 hours per week outside their law school coursework.

Although the change might allay some students' worries about paying for their education, the financial benefit might not be worth the blow to students' study time, they said.

"For some students, that could be a risky course of action," Krinsky said. "Financially, I could certainly understand it, but if you're not devoting enough time to schoolwork, it might have been worth it to make a little less money while you were in school."

Similarly, Schultz said, "It's a big undertaking to go to law school, and you want students to have the time to devote to that."

The proposed accreditation changes also include requiring schools to permit students to take up to 15 credit hours of "distance courses," such as online classes, instead of 12 hours, and letting law schools admit up to 10 percent of their first-year class from applicants who haven't taken the LSAT.

The ABA House of Delegates will vote on the revisions to accreditation standards at the ABA's annual meeting Aug. 8-10 in Boston.

According to the ABA Journal, the House of Delegates may either concur with a proposed change or send it back, once or twice, to the council of the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

The section, though -- not the ABA itself -- is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting agency for programs that lead to a law degree, the ABA Journal notes. Therefore, the section has the final say on any changes in the standards.
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   Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com

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