Legal Competition To Rise After ABA Considers Foreign Accreditation

The economy for job-seeking lawyers is already dire. Now, it’s about to get worse.

Today, at the annual ABA meeting in Chicago, the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is ready to review whether or not to begin accreditation of overseas law schools, reports the National Law Journal.

A panel of law professors, deans, judges, and attorneys already recommended that the council expand its accreditation power to those foreign schools following the U.S. model.

One such university—the Peking University in China—aims to be the first to seek accreditation by the U.S. The university wrote a letter to the council that read, “The decision the Council will make is of great importance not only to [the Peking University]…”

“It will determine whether American legal education can be a global model or whether other countries will turn elsewhere.”

Peking Law classes are conducted in English and in Chinese, which was part of the university founder’s plan—former University of Michigan Law School dean, Jeffrey Lehman—to bring American-style legal education abroad. And, Peking Law is not alone.

But, these schools seeking accreditation are not alone in the debate, either. In addition to ample support, the idea has garnered much disapproval from U.S. law students, deans, judges, and bar officials.

After the ABA surveyed 645 relevant professionals, it found that most critics worried that (1) the developing accreditation standards and monitoring overseas wouldn’t be stringent or financially possible; (2) foreign legal education would not include the ethical and cultural nuances of the American system necessary for accreditation; and (3) ABA resources would be reallocated away from U.S. law schools.

“In addition, many respondents, primarily students, raised concerns about the impact of expansion of the Accreditation Project would have on the employment opportunities for U.S. law graduates,” wrote an executive summary of the public responses, according to the National Law Journal.

In the past, lawyers only had to compete nationally for jobs. Now, it seems attorneys may need to watch out for overseas resumes bringing tumultuous competition to an already stormy industry market.

The question for law firms is: Will this have an impact on your hiring practices?

Do you consider it an asset to have an American-trained, but native Chinese speaker represent your law firm during our increasingly globalized world of corporate litigation?

The economic recession has already made it clear that the U.S. market for law is supersaturated with qualified attorneys. What happens to the market for post-grads when foreign law schools are accredited?

Luckily for American lawyers, this issue has been debated since 2008 and a council decision twice delayed. So, while it may be a valid issue, it’s just not one that seems to be on the ABA’s priority list…. yet.

-WB

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