Here, I consider the role of the primary credentialing authority for American Law Schools, the American Bar Association (ABA). As I will explain, ABA Approved Law Schools are, in fact, subject to reporting admissions data for J.D. programs (Download Chapter Five and read Standard 509, Interpretation 509-1, Section (1) ), but have no obligation to report LL.M. admissions data.
One reason for the discrepancy between the way US Law Schools report admissions data for LL.M. and J.D. can be traced to the ABA approval process:
The ABA does not formally approve any program other than the first degree in law (J.D.).
ABA accreditation does not extend to any program supporting any other degree granted by the law school. Rather the content and requirements of those degrees, such as an LL.M., are created by the law school itself and do not reflect any judgment by the ABA accrediting bodies regarding the quality of the program.For those not familiar with the way the bar works, this lack of oversight of LL.M. might seem odd because one could mistakenly believe that the ABA actually regulates bar admission. So how do LL.M.s get admitted to the bar?
The criteria for eligibility to take the bar examination or to otherwise qualify for bar admission are set by each state, not by the ABA or the Council for the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
Thus states determine who can take the bar, not the ABA. The ABA is thus able to avoid the whole issue of LL.M. programs and bar passage.
Interestingly enough, even though the ABA does not provide direct oversight on LL.M. degrees, the two states, California and New York, that routinely accept the US LL.M. degree for bar admission, only accept LL.M.s from ABA approved schools.
In California, the LL.M. is accepted if it is from an ABA approved school, but California also accepts J.D. graduates of non-ABA approved schools. Hence California which actually oversees non-ABA approved law school's J.D. programs appears to assume that the ABA is providing oversight for the LL.M., which the ABA is not doing.
In New York, the standards for LL.M. or other graduate degree study are explained in great depth. Again the assumption appears to be that New York assumes ABA oversight:
Approved Law School - Approved law school means a U.S. law school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Please note that the Board cannot recommend a particular law schools nor does the Board maintain a list of schools that offer programs that will satisfy the Rule 520.6. You may contact the ABA's Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar at their website (http://www.abanet.org/legaled) to obtain a list of ABA approved law schools.
I conclude from the above that neither state bars or the ABA are particularly concerned about LL.M. programs and certainly not something as particular as the reporting of admissions data.
The other principal body that one could look to would be the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), but my review of the requirements for member institutions leads me to the conclusion that the aforementioned ABA requirement for the reporting of J.D. admissions numbers is one that ABA Approved Schools are required to follow. However the AALS Bylaws does include language that I find very interesting:
Bylaw Section 6-2. Admissions c. A member school shall deal fairly with applicants for admission.
There are many ways to interpret such a fairness standard. At least at this time, it does not include proving LL.M. applicants with the same quality of data as J.D. applicants. I think this should change because LL.M. applicants should be able to make admissions decisions based on the same kind of admissions data that J.D. applicants have access to. In the next post in this series, I will explain what I will be doing about this issue.
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