Advice to the ABA

May 13th, 2013 / By

Like many other lawyers and educators, I have submitted comments to the ABA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. As I note in my letter, the challenges facing legal education will require responses from many quarters. I tried to focus my comments on issues where the ABA could play an effective role. My six recommendations are:

1. Limit the availability of federal loans by (a) advocating for Congress or the Department of Education to modify loan rules, and (b) adopting accreditation standards that would tie accreditation to graduates’ ability to repay loans.

2. Adopt an accreditation standard that would require law schools to divide scholarship dollars equally between need-based and merit-based awards.

3. Encourage “flex-time” degree programs that would allow students to integrate work and academic study in a greater variety of ways.

4. Allow law schools to apply some pre-matriculation credits toward the JD. This would change current Interpretation 304-5 in the accreditation standards.

5. Adopt proposed Alternative C to Accreditation Standard 405, which would allow schools to protect academic freedom through mechanisms other than tenure, and would require schools to afford the same job security and status to all full-time professors.

6. Repeal Rule 5.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits lawyers from forming partnerships with non-lawyers or obtaining outside investment in their practices.

I’ll offer more detail on each of these proposals in separate posts. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in my letter to the Task Force, it appears here.

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  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    With regards to #1, you will probably find it of interest that the two major higher ed foundation/think tanks – Gates and Lumina – both advocate for the elimination of GradPLUS loans, as part of possible overhauls of student lending. I believe both cited law school abuse of the system as a primary motivator. You can find articles concerning these pronouncements on the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. Given their very exalted status with the DOE, both in terms of policy influence and a big ol’ revolving door for senior execs, this could be a development of great importance. Simpson & Bowles have also publicly advocated to eliminate GradPLUS loans.

    I know that K-JD law students were often handed six figures in private student loans in the salad days of the mid 2000’s, but given the changes in the SLABS market and the much more public knowledge of JD outcomes, I doubt that Sallie and Citi will step in to fill what can easily be a $40k to $60k shortfall between the annual Stafford cap and the annual COA of our more expensive law schools. And if only 1/4 to 1/3 of one’s law school loans are eligible for IBR/PAYE/PSLF, it will have a deleterious effect on admissions.

    For all of the handwringing and crocodile tears by the ABA and state bar associations and law schools, the simple repeal of GradPLUS will induce immediate, devastating changes to American legal education. Perhaps that is all the change that is needed.

    • DeborahMerritt

      Thanks very much for these comments. I will check for the Foundation statements, since I hadn’t seen them before.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Gates has been fielding “student loan overhaul” proposals for months; I think the notion is that they will mix-and-match different pieces together as suits their needs. CHE and IHE have been covering some of these proposals, and the ones I have seen all favor ending GradPLUS loans in favor of private lending and a slightly higher Stafford cap (i.e.$25k/year, nothing like the old HEAL loans for med students).

        Lumina may have a few pieces on their website. Seeing as it was founded by student loan companies (Sallie Mae and USA Group) and keeps a very healthy roster of student loan execs on its board, I’m guessing they would not be upset at a restoration of the private market. Sallie has been trying to kickstart the SLABS market of late, anyhow. The more I look at Lumina and the studies it funds, the more it appears to be a non-profit advertising subsidiary of Sallie – everyone who goes to college is successful under all circumstances and the college premium has never been higher (for people who graduated from college in 1975), so let’s make sure every low-income family sends their kids to college on student loans. They also seem to be working with ALEC (!) on some manner of disparagement regarding public education in general. Seriously.

        Simpson & Bowles’ stance on GradPLUS was in a CHE or IHE blurb six or eight weeks ago.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

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