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59 Wash. U. L. Q. 887 (1981-1982)


Most of the people who want to become lawyers in the United States have to come to terms with the American Bar Association. The ABA, in form and in tradition a voluntary association of lawyers, is a virtual governmental regulator of legal education.

People who want to become lawyers do not have to join the ABA—any more than people who are already lawyers have to join—but, in most states, a potential lawyer cannot sit for the bar examination unless he has first obtained a law degree from a school approved by the ABA. And, although in form and tradition the Association's approval of law schools once was little more than a gentlemanly nod, today the "accreditation" apparatus maintained by the ABA is a formidable regulatory enterprise.

ABA accreditation is (in the view of one who spent six years in the middle of it) hectic, demanding, inconspicuous, and misunderstood. It is important, though—partly because it is the only collective enterprise that seriously attempts to protect consumers of legal education, and partly because it is the gate to practice for most American lawyers. This essay discusses four issues that have become prominent in law school accreditation as the ABA and its constituents have adjusted to modern changes in the profession, in education, and in the flow of consumers of legal education noted by the McManis article. These are four issues among many. I chose these because each of them suggests a characteristic concern with good education, and may, in a small way, show that the ABA's gate-keeping is a service as well as a necessity—a service to law students, most of all, but also a service to the profession and to those whom the profession serves. It would be interesting to ask, in this regard, whether the shift in emphasis that Greenhaw describes, from delivery of legal services to competence, is reflected in the ABA's concern, and therefore in the concern of regulated law schools—and whether, if it is, this shift is somehow traceable to student concern.


Commentary. Reprinted: 32 Journal of Legal Education 224 (1982) & in the Bar Leader, p. 16, July-Aug 1982



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