The ABA and Law School Innovation

by Daniel McGregor, 2L Note Candidate

Enrollment at the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law is up despite an August proclamation against granting the school accreditation by an ABA advisory group. Hacker, Holly K., Students Flock to UNT-Dallas Law School Despite Questions About its Future, DALLASNEWS (Aug. 31, 2016), http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2016/08/31/students-flock-unt-dallas-law-school-despite-questions-future [https://perma.cc/Z2T4-3YTB].

This underscores a point recently made by Indiana’s Former Chief Justice, Justice Randall T. Shepard (pictured below), who notes that a shift in the way financial aid is distributed can disproportionately impact those applicants who come from homes with less economic advantages. When a school, like the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law, tries to provide a program that addresses this issue, the ABA should at least allow them a little leeway and time to see if the program can work.

shepardThe underlying problem, as noted by Former Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, is the shift from need-based financial aid to focusing more on the merit of LSAT scores and GPAs. The problem with this shift is that the affluent tend to have higher scores and thus receive the bulk of the financial aid. The UNT-Dallas College of Law was opened as an affordable option for individuals who may not have the best measurable scores that would allow them to receive tuition breaks at most universities. This may provide opportunities for a more diverse class without forcing individuals to rack up extreme amounts of debt. According to Deborah Merritt, the school considers a multitude of factors in addition to GPA and LSAT scores in determining who is likely to succeed in law school. Merritt, Deborah Jones, Should Law School in Texas Be Rewarded or Punished for Unique Approach? (Perspective), Bloomberg L. (Sept. 9, 2016), https://bol.bna.com/should-law-school-in-texas-be-rewarded-or-punished-for-unique-approach-perspective/ [https://perma.cc/LAA6-BZSW]. Providing a less expensive law degree may also allow these individuals to pursue work that does not pay as well after graduation.

Former Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard notes that “crisis prompts innovation,” using Arizona State opening its own non-profit law firm as an example. The University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law can also be viewed as a program trying to innovate in the face of crisis. As such, it seems like the school should be provided a reasonable amount of time to show whether the program will work. The uptick in admissions, despite the doubt about accreditation, shows that there is a demand for what the institution is providing. While this program may not be for everyone, it cannot be deemed ineffective until graduating students are allowed to sit for the Texas Bar. If UNT-Dallas College of Law students pass at rates comparable to students at other accredited law schools in Texas, that would be evidence UNT-Dallas College of Law’s model is working. If UNT-Dallas students fail to achieve this measure, then at least we know this innovative school was given an opportunity to prove itself.

To read more about this issue, check out Former Chief Justice Shepard’s article published in the Indiana Law Review. Shepard, Randall T., The Problem of Law School Discounting – How Do We Sustain Equal Opportunity in the Profession?, 50 Ind. L. Rev. 1 (2016) (available at http://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/ilr/pdf/vol50p1.pdf). Former Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard’s article is also featured as a cover story in the latest issue of the The Bar Examiner. Shepard, Randall T., The Problem of Law School Discounting – How Do We Sustain Equal Opportunity in the Profession?, 85 B. Examiner 6 (2016) (available at http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fassets%2Fmedia_files%2FBarExaminer%2Fissue%2FBE-850416-ABRIDGED2.pdf).

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