07 August 2012 at 11:28 BST

US regulator rejects foreign law schools

US legal education regulators have rejected proposals to accredit foreign law schools in a move that will stoke continued debate over protectionism in the American legal profession.

Chicago: Windy reception for foreign law school proposals

Leading players from outside the US described the decision by the American Bar Association as ‘disappointing, but predictable’.  And the head of the biggest law school in Europe said the move would have little practical impact as crucial individual state bars could still recognise overseas accreditation.

Overwhelming rejection

The ABA decision was taken in a vote by its council of legal education and admissions to the bar, which was meeting at the association’s annual conference, held over the last few days in Chicago. According to a report in the National Law Journal, the council spent half an hour considering the matter at the annual meeting before rejecting overwhelmingly the option of approving overseas law schools.
Despite the brevity of that meeting, the council’s chairman, John O’Brien, maintained that the ABA had comprehensively analysed the issue over the last two years, having launched two studies into various possibilities. ‘The thoroughness of the study and the number of groups that weighed in had a big impact on the final decision,’ Mr O’Brien told the newspaper.


Officials from the Peking University School of Transnational Law, which was founded five years ago by former dean of the law school at the University of Michigan –made submissions to the council last month backing the case for accrediting overseas institutions.  
Likewise, England’s College of Law – Europe’s biggest legal education institution and recently privatised -- is also understood to have been enthusiastic about potential ABA accreditation. The college’s chief executive, Professor Nigel Savage, said the association’s Chicago decision was ‘disappointing but predictable’. He described the US regulators as ‘even more conservative’ than their counterparts in England – the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board.

New York joy

But Prof Savage predicted the ABA ruling would ultimately have only a limited impact on the college’s US aspirations, as it was more important to target specific state jurisdictions. He pointed to recent moves by the New York state bar to accredit the college’s graduate diploma in law course, which means that for the first time those students will be eligible to sit the New York bar entrance exam.
Prof Savage also called on the SRA to ‘embrace the opportunity’ for the English jurisdiction to welcome overseas students.


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