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U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley is not satisfied with the American Bar Association’s response last month to a series of questions he posed about the organization’s oversight of law schools. Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to the organization on Aug. 8 posing additional questions about what the ABA is doing to ensure that law graduates can pay back their student loans; about the makeup of its accreditation committee; and about how the organization is responding to the declining number of job opportunities for young lawyers. “The [ABA's] inadequate response to my letter raised additional questions that merit drilling down further,” Grassley said in a press release issued on Aug. 9. “For example, the taxpayers are on the hook for any defaulted student loans. The American Bar Association seems confident that students will be able to pay back their loans, yet also acknowledges uncertain job prospects for lawyers. It’s important to examine this further and try to reconcile these statements.” ABA spokeswoman Anne Nicholas said the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar was preparing a response to Grassley’s second letter and expects to have that ready before the end of August. Grassley is the second U.S. senator to express an interest in the ABA’s law school-related activities. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wrote to the ABA both in March and in May, urging the organization to increase the transparency and accuracy of law school employment and salary data. Grassley first wrote to the ABA on July 11, requesting information about the ABA’s approach to law schools accreditation, law graduate loan default rates and scholarship retention rates. The ABA responded with a 67-page memo declaring that its role is to ensure that accredited law schools produce graduates who can be lawyers, not to regulate the number of new lawyers based on economic conditions. Denying accreditation to schools that that otherwise meet its standards would violate U.S. Department of Education regulations, the association wrote. In his follow-up letter, Grassley questioned the makeup of the three ABA committees that play a role in law school accreditation. He noted that legal academics and university administrators account for 48%, 52% and 64% of each committee. “Has the ABA taken any steps to make these panels more representative of the legal profession as a whole in order to minimize the appearance of a conflict of interest in favor of accrediting more law schools to create more jobs in academia?” he wrote. Grassley asked for further explanation of how a “more restrictive accreditation standards would ‘deny access to the legal profession’ and would violate the law,” as the ABA has said. Karen Sloan can be contacted at [email protected].

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