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A recent article in The National Law Journal, “ABA vs. DOJ: it’s far from over” [NLJ, July 3], reported that “on multiple occasions” the American Bar Association failed to honor the provisions of the consent decree that was designed to reform serious antitrust violations in the ABA’s law school accreditation practices. Shame on the ABA. Shame on those who allowed it to happen. Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and many Supreme Court justices became members of the legal profession well before the advent of today’s monopolistic accreditation policies that the ABA imposes on all law schools to obtain its imprimatur. Long before the U.S. Department of Education recognized the ABA as the only national accreditor of law schools, law schools produced many fine attorneys and leaders. Lawyers possess a disproportionate amount of power in our society and often return to serve their communities. It is crucial to ensure that these schools are accessible, affordable gateways for all segments of society . . . not just the white and wealthy. The ABA’s accreditation demands of high LSAT scores; its insistence on high-cost rules that impede minority, immigrant and working class enrollment; and its refusal to accredit schools, like the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, that serve such students, demonstrate that the ABA is unfit to continue to serve as the national accreditor of law schools. Too much is at stake to continue to delegate this important function to a cartel that in 1995 the U.S. Department of Justice sued over its law school accreditation practices. The ABA then disdainfully violated the limited restrictions imposed on it pursuant to the consent decree. Law school in 1980 was affordable. My first year cost $3,200. The annual tuition at that same law school is now over $33,000. Tuition at some law schools exceeded the $35,000 mark a few years ago and now the $40,000 barrier is as impenetrable as the Maginot Line. ABA law school accreditation policies begun in the 1970s begot skyrocketing tuition and fees greatly exceeding the cost of inflation in the decades that followed. Law school tuition has risen at a far greater rate than college tuitions and by far greater absolute amounts. While tuition, room and board at undergraduate institutions increased by 58% during the 1990s, law school tuition jumped by 88%. There is no end in sight to this tuition crisis. No student can finance the cost of law school from his or her earnings at work alone. The escalation of the cost of attending law school disproportionately affects people of color and those from the less affluent segments of society. A law degree must be affordable in order to offer these students the social and economic advancement that a law degree has historically provided. In 2002, the then-president of the ABA, William Paul, decried the alarming lack of “minority representation in the legal profession.” According to the 2000 U.S. Census, minority representation in the legal profession is about 9.7%. This is a far lower rate than in every other profession including physicians and surgeons, whose rate is 24.6%. The key to an accessible high quality education is not more loans or state subsidies to feed the gaping maw of ever-higher tuitions. Rather, schools must take steps to be more productive and reduce costs. Federally recognized accrediting agencies must encourage those efforts. The ABA mandates that law schools use the LSAT in admissions decisions, with a devastating effect on African-American applicants. The ABA uniformly denies accreditation to law schools with average LSAT scores below 143, yet the average LSAT score for African-Americans is 142. Since many ABA law schools employ inflexible LSAT “cut-off” scores, individuals with superior grades are rejected out of hand. Despite this, the ABA has never accredited a law school that uses an alternative test. Time and again the ABA has demonstrated the societal need for the Department of Education to end the ABA’s monopoly of legal education and terminate its perverse reign as the only approved national accreditor of law schools. The ABA has misused the absolute power granted it by our government and has beguiled state supreme courts to accept its dictates in determining who can sit for the bar examination. This abusive and destructive accreditation tyranny has blockaded both minorities and the affordable law schools that serve them. By design or indifference, the ABA’s policies regarding law school accreditation disproportionately impact people of color and the less affluent. By design or indifference, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice cannot continue to tacitly condone that discrimination. The Department of Education must terminate recognition of the ABA as the only federally approved national accreditor of law schools. The Department of Justice must act to ensure justice for all, not just the white and wealthy. Michael Coyne is associate dean at the Massachusetts School of Law. He can be reached at [email protected].

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