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Has the ABA Started Down a Slippery Deregulatory Slope?

The ABA, which accredits law schools, is considering proposals that would allow reducing the number of tenured faculty members. What implications might this have for legal regulation more generally?

The Wall Street Journal article reporting on this development, Law-School Professors Face Less Job Security (12 August 2012), suggests that one reason for the change is to allow law schools to reduce cost in the face of declining student enrollments.

I’m no expert on legal regulations or law school accreditation, but I had always assumed the accreditation standards were designed to achieve specific educational goals.  If, in fact, economics influence regulations, why stop there?

Innovative providers of legal service may someday bump into ethical constraints.  If they do, with this news, I suspect the ABA will find it harder to stand on pure principle.  After all, once economics enters, what changes might we see to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct?

Of course, we might see the ABA try to protect lawyers from competitors that are not law firms.  The politics augur against that.  If the economics of clients (at least large, sophisticated ones with in-house counsel) count, then we should see regulatory reform similar to the alternative business structures (ABS) the UK now allows.  That means non-lawyers can own law firms.  And that, in turn, would likely foster far more innovation in service delivery in the United States.

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