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Last Updated: April 3, 2014

All About the ABA

What is the ABA?

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a trade organization for lawyers. It has many sections, centers, and divisions. Power is concentrated in the Office of the President, the House of Delegates, and the Board of Governors.

The House of Delegates is like a legislature. They vote on items that become official policies for the ABA. The Board of Governors (38 members) has the authority to act and speak for the ABA, consistent with previous action of the House of Delegates, when the House is not in session. It oversees the general operation of the ABA and develops specific plans of action. The Board includes the ABA's president, a person elected to a one-year term two years in advance. An executive director oversees the ABA's permanent staff.

The Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar is one of the ABA's sections. It's the section that has accreditation authority, not the ABA itself. The relationship used to be closer, but a Department of Justice investigation in the 1990s led to separation.

Like the ABA, the Section of Legal Education has a political arm and a staff arm. The staff arm is small and is usually referred to as the "professional staff." Barry Currier, a former law school dean, is the managing director. His deputy is Scott Norberg, a former law professor and associate dean.

The Council of the Section of Legal Education is the section's governing arm. It has law school accreditation authority, along with its accreditation committee. The Council has a chair, on a one-year term (elected two years in advance), and a large body of individuals serving three-year terms. The current chair is The Honorable Solomon Oliver, Jr., Chief Judge, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio.

The Council has a number of committees, but only three accreditation-related ones. The accreditation committee, the standards review committee (SRC), and the data policy and collection committee (DPCC, formerly the questionnaire committee). The first two are relatively diverse, i.e. not all law school professors and law school administrators. The DPCC is comprised of all law professors and administrators.

The DPCC deals with collecting data from schools for accreditation purposes. They act under the authority of the Council, but the Council approves their policies. The SRC works on the ABA accreditation standards, which must be approved by the Council. Once the standards go through notice and comment and the Council approves proposals, the ABA House of Delegates votes. The House's approval is not the final say; if it does not approve a proposed standard, the Council may reconsider it and finalize approval despite the House's action.

Finally, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education has made recent headlines for a report it published criticizing law schools and supporting several proposed reforms. The Task Force was appointed by former ABA President William T. Robinson in 2012 and is administered by the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility. It has no formal authority over law schools, but aims to provide thought leadership.

Why does the ABA Section of Legal Education keep accrediting new law schools?

The Section of Legal Education does not view itself as gatekeepers whose role it is to balance supply and demand. Indeed, they may not legally be able to do so without a broader grant of authority from the Department of Education or anti-trust exemption from Congress. If a school meets the accreditation standards, they are obligated to accredit.