School Law: The ABA’s sanction of Villanova is another toothless bite

August 17, 2011

School Law(Editor’s note: With August being the “back to school” month for everyone from preschoolers to law students, we’ll be looking at recent important developments in education law throughout the month.)

To view the first post on Indiana’s school voucher program, click here.

To view the second post on discrimination in Minnesota schools, click here.

For those who haven’t been following the story, the American Bar Association has been under serious scrutiny lately.

Namely, the ABA, as the primary regulatory body for the legal education sphere, is being attacked for not doing enough regulating.

The cause of the conflict is, in short, the bad legal job market.

Many lawyers fresh out of law school are finding the market doesn’t meet the expectations they were given before starting law school, since the vast majority of law schools boast employment rates of between 80% and 97% nine months after graduation.

While law schools have come under heavy fire for their perceived lack of transparency in their disclosure of employment numbers, the ABA is facing complaints that it is not doing enough to compel law schools to do so.

The circumstances have roused congressional inquiries which many hope will lead to regulatory changes in the industry, while some don’t care for the long wait  inherent to the political process and have taken the matter into their own hands through the courts.

Villanova fudged numbersIt’s against this backdrop that the ABA recently disciplined Villanova University School of Law for intentionally providing false LSAT scores and grade point averages of several entering classes.

Disciplined how?

A public censure.

What does this mean for Villanova?

Aside from some short-term damage to their public image, not much.

The school also has to undergo a compliance audit for the next two years, but other than that, the school walked away from the whole thing unscathed.

The ABA letter to the school states that these lesser disciplinary measures were taken because the school reported the problem itself, and “separated from the law school all persons responsible.”

If that hadn’t been the case, the ABA claims, it may have sought harsher sanctions, including revoking Villanova’s accreditation (a death sentence for any law school).

Call me a cynic, but this whole thing seems a little too well-planned and well-timed.

The ABA is facing intense inquiry from the Senate (which could potentially end with its regulatory power being stripped), in addition to severe criticism across the legal community, all because its detractors claim it’s not doing enough to keep law schools honest.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the ABA “disciplines” a law school for being dishonest.

And of course, the ABA made sure to mention the fact that Villanova got off easy because it fixed the problem itself, aligning with its current philosophy of self-regulation.

Exhibit 1: last week, the ABA adopted a resolution urging ABA-approved law schools to be more transparent with their employment data.

Key word: urging.

The resolution doesn’t require law schools to do anything differently; the ABA is just saying that it wants them to.

While the ABA’s accreditation arm is currently considering changes to reporting requirements for law schools, those changes haven’t seen the light of day, and we don’t know how strong (or weak) they will be.

However, it’s in the ABA’s best interests to grow some teeth and put some force behind its regulations.

Although self-regulation may make law schools happy, it doesn’t seem to have been working for just about everyone else, including the people in government who can completely revoke the ABA’s regulatory power.