It’s a banner year for the Association of American Law Schools, as far as new members are concerned.

The AALS’s House of Delegates during its annual meeting in Washington approved four law schools for membership, its largest yearly increase since the 1970s.

“This is a very special year, as far as membership,” said AALS Executive Director Susan Westerberg Prager, who noted that the last major membership surge occurred in the aftermath of World War II. “Each one of these schools brings its own personality to our membership.”

The House of Delegates on Jan. 5 approved the membership of the Drexel University Earl Mack School of Law, North Carolina Central University School of Law, the St. Thomas School University of Law and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. AALS now counts 176 schools as members.

Drexel’s law school opened in 2005. North Carolina Central University School of Law, one of the first law schools at a historically black college, opened in 1939. St. Thomas operated a law school from 1923 to 1933 before closing it, then reopening it in 1999. What is now known as the Texas Wesleyan School of Law opened in 1989.

After welcoming its new members, ABA President William T. (Bill) Robinson III told the assembled group of law professors that he had prepared remarks, but decided instead to “speak from the heart.”

“These are difficult times in legal education,” Robinson said, referring to the tight legal job market, skyrocketing costs and criticism from The New York Times and elsewhere. “The attacks are not fair, in our opinion.”

That comment came two days after the ABA filed its initial response to a suit filed in federal court in late December by Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law after the ABA denied it accreditation, and just one day before both parties were scheduled to appear in a Knoxville, Tenn., courtroom for a hearing on the temporary restraining order that the law school is seeking. Duncan’s lawsuit claims that the ABA violated antitrust law in denying its application.

Robinson said he always visits with law students when he makes trips around the country and never fails to be impressed with their skills and knowledge.

“They are, in my opinion, making very wise decisions about their future,” he said. “These are very bright people.”

The decision to attend law school is not necessarily about job security, Robinson said, but rather about opportunity. A law degree offers the “widest potential variety of career opportunity” compared to other advanced degree programs, he said.

The ABA is committed to defending law schools from attacks on its ability to produce good lawyers, he said

“Our law schools can stand up and measure up against any other graduate program in this country,” he said.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.