The third time may well be the charm this week as the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar debates whether to begin accrediting foreign law schools.
The council will take that matter up on Friday, during the ABA's annual meeting in Chicago, after twice delaying any decision.
An ABA panel of law professors, deans, judges and attorneys in 2010 recommended that the council seriously consider expanding its accreditation power to overseas law schools that follow the U.S. model. The panel cited the growing pressure facing bar associations and state judges regarding admission of foreign lawyers, and concluded that accrediting overseas law schools would help those decisions.
But a second ABA committee formed in 2011 to gather public comments reached a different conclusion in May. Citing overwhelming opposition, the eight-member committee unanimously recommended against accrediting overseas schools. Domestic law students in particular expressed concern that the move would increase competition for jobs.
That prompted an impassioned, 22-page response from administrators at the Peking University School of Transnational Law. The school, located in Shenzhen, China, is the first foreign law school to seek ABA accreditation.
The July 27 letter calls the latest ABA recommendation "badly flawed" but praises the earlier recommendation in favor or accrediting overseas law schools.
"The decision the Council will make is of great importance not only to [the Peking University]," the letter reads. "It will determine whether American legal education can be a global model or whether other countries will turn elsewhere."
The letter adds that the ABA's decision will determine whether the United States can claim the "moral high ground" as American law firms seek to move into foreign legal markets.
Peking Law was founded by former University of Michigan Law School dean Jeffrey Lehman in 2007 with a goal of bringing American-style legal education to China. Classes are conducted in English and Chinese.
The ABA received 645 responses to a public survey regarding the accreditation of overseas law schools from law students, deans, judges and bar officials. The move's supporters most often pointed to globalization, promotion of the rule of law and increased collaboration between U.S. and foreign law schools as reasons to go ahead.