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March 20, 2007

ABA Concludes Visit

By Ishai Mooreville

All officially accredited law schools in this country get a visit every seven years from the American Bar Association to make sure each of them is performing up to its accredited status. This past week, from March 11 to 14, it was the University of Michigan Law School’s turn to get some external evaluation from ABA Staff Members.

Though the Law School’s accreditation is in no serious doubt, the purpose of the visit is to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that students are indeed receiving a legal education inside Hutchins Hall. Last week the ABA team sat in on classes, met with students, and spoke with faculty and other administrators to evaluate the Law School.

“They are here to be able to describe the school’s operations to a larger accreditation
committee, who will evaluate the school according to nationally promulgated standards,” said Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Kyle Logue.

The site-visit team is made up of current lawyers, judges, law school deans, and professors. Part of the rationale for visiting every ABA law school once every seven years is to guarantee that every law school is treated fairly during the accreditation process. So, if a particular school’s accreditation is challenged, or even removed, there can be no charges of bias against the ABA.

“The purpose of the site visit is not to assess the performance of the school, but rather to develop a comprehensive report that is then shared with the accreditation committee
for it to review according to the standards,” said Logue.

So what is the site-visit team actually looking for? They’re looking to see if the Law School is continuing to meet certain pre-defined standards to which all accredited law schools must adhere. They want to know, for example, whether the curriculum includes certain courses, whether the students are actually attending class, and whether basic teaching standards are being met.

According to the ABA website, the site visit team even looks at a few students’ final exams and grades to make sure everything is on par.

Only two law schools in the nation are currently on probation for failing to meet ABA standards: Whittier Law School in Costa Mesta, CA, and Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. The most recent additions to the accredited club were the University of St. Thomas in 2003 and Ave Maria Law School (formerly located in Ann Arbor) in 2002.

While the ABA Team is not responsible for making formal recommendations of improvement to the schools they review (and ultimately their final report is confidential), they have informally advised Michigan on areas where the Law School could improve, such as having more regularly scheduled classes on Friday and improving its class offerings in professional responsibility.

Now that the ABA staff visit is complete, those who toured Michigan will issue a report to the formal accreditation committee of the ABA, who will make their final decision in the next few months on whether the Law School will maintain its accreditation. But students shouldn’t worry too much about the value of their future degrees: Michigan has been accredited since 1923, when the whole ABA accreditation system began. Barring some unfathomable decline, Michigan Law will certainly retain its status.