The American Bar Association won’t extend its seal of approval to foreign law schools anytime soon. The ABA’s Council of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar overwhelmingly voted on August 3 to withhold accreditation from law schools outside the United States.

The vote capped four years of debate into whether it makes sense for the ABA to allow overseas law school that follow the U.S. educational model to apply for accreditation. Those discussions began in 2008 after the Peking University School of Transnational Law — founded by former University of Michigan Law School dean Jeffrey Lehman in 2007 — indicated that it would pursue ABA accreditation.

The ABA formed a committee to examine the issue, and in 2010 it recommended seriously considering extending accreditation to certain non-U.S. schools. That panel concluded that the move would help state judges and bar associations decide whether to allow foreign-trained lawyers to practice within their jurisdictions.

But a second committee reached the opposite conclusion earlier this year, following an outpouring of opposition, much of it from law students fearful of additional competition for scarce law jobs. Committee members decided that overseas accreditation would be expensive and hard to administer.

The council spent about 30 minutes hearing from the leaders of the second committee, law professors Martin Burke and Joan Howland, and discussing the issue, said chairman John O’Brien. He noted that the panel has reviewed the opinions of bar associations, chief judges and law school administrators.

“I certainly think the thoroughness of the study and the number of groups that weighed in had a big impact on the final decision,” he said. “I also think that the fact that we’re in the process of our periodic review of all our standards was a factor.”

Officials from the Peking University School of Transnational Law sent a letter to the council in late July making a case for overseas accreditation. Officials there could not be reached for comment regarding the vote.

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