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Can’t regulate number of law students, ABA says

The American Bar Association has told Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, that its role in accrediting law schools is to make sure that those schools produce graduates who can be lawyers, not to regulate the number of lawyers based on economic conditions.

Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote the ABA on July 11 expressing concerns about “the increase in graduate job prospects, the increase in graduate debt, and the decrease in graduate job prospects.” He asked the ABA to respond to 31 questions related to those concerns.

In a letter from ABA president Stephen N. Zack and an accompanying 67-page memorandum, the ABA said it would violate Department of Education regulations if it denied accreditation to law schools that meet its standards.

“[R]egardless of what some may see as the desirability of denying access to the legal profession on the basis of even medium-term employment opportunities, the accrediting agency simply cannot lawfully do so,” the ABA said in the memo.

In his letter, Grassley cited a New York Times article in which students complained about what they termed a “bait and switch” practice in which law schools offered more merit-based scholarships than they intended to renew. The ABA responded that the scholarships require the students to meet a minimum grade-point average and said it has received no complaints that law schools failed to notify students of those terms.

The ABA acknowledged that the number of need-based scholarships has dropped over the last five years while the number of merit-based scholarships has increased. That shift has prompted complaints that law schools are using the merit-based scholarships to entice students with high LSATs and GPAs to the detriment of lower-income students.

Grassley asked for information about default rates on law students loans, but the ABA said it could not break out rates for graduates of university-based law schools. It found that only one of 19 independent law schools had a default rate of 2.2 percent, and the 7.1 percent rate for Atlanta’s John Marshall law school was based on a small number of students.

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