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The American Bar Association is already tasked by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit U.S. law schools. Now an ABA committee has recommended that it should seriously consider expanding that power to overseas law schools that follow the U.S. model. In June, the ABA’s Council of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar appointed the committee of law professors, attorneys, judges and law deans to examine whether foreign law schools should be allowed to seek ABA accreditation. The council is scheduled to consider the committee’s recommendations in December. The committee cited an earlier ABA report’s conclusion that state supreme courts and bar associations are under more pressure than ever to make decisions about admitting foreign lawyers as the legal profession becomes more globalized. “Such an expansion would provide additional guidance for state supreme courts when lawyers trained outside the United States seek to be allowed to sit for a U.S. bar examination,” the committee said in its report. “Since that is a key function of the accreditation process generally, the expansion would be consistent with the historic role of the section in aiding state supreme courts in the bar admissions area.” The committee cited figures from the National Conference of Bar Examiners that between 4,000 and 5,000 foreign-trained law graduates each year take the bar exam in the United States. Most of them sit for the exams in New York or California. If the ABA decides not to expand accreditation, and states are forced to make their own decisions about foreign-trained attorneys, some lawyers with “less reliable training” than graduates of U.S. law schools will be admitted to the bar, the the committee said. Additionally, there will be a lack of consistency among states as to how foreign-trained lawyers are admitted, it said. “If we believe that the American legal education model is the ‘gold standard’ for legal education world-wide and that well-trained lawyers are critical to the global economy, then a willingness to expand accreditation to schools embracing the American model is an appropriate way to improve the training of lawyers globally and contribute to the modern economy and the international legal profession,” the panel said. The committee cited potential downsides to accrediting international law schools, however. For one thing, it might expand practice opportunities for foreign-trained attorneys with no reciprocal benefit for graduates of U.S. law schools. There also could be political fallout if the ABA failed to accredit a government-sponsored law school. The committee said that the cost of the overseas accreditation would be born by the foreign law schools, not the ABA. Should the council prove receptive to the idea, it might want to visit a foreign law school to see if it could meet the standards for U.S. law schools, the committee said. ABA spokeswoman Nancy Slonim said that nine-page report has been sent to state supreme court justices, the leadership of the ABA, deans of ABA-approved law schools and other interested parties. People have until Oct. 15 to submit comments, she said. The committee included University of California Hastings College of the Law professor Mary Kay Kane, Virginia Senior Justice Elizabeth Lacy, University of Miami School of Law Dean Dennis Lynch, Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard, and K&L Gates partner David Tang.

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