American Bar Association confirms US will not accredit foreign law schools

The American Bar Association (ABA) has voted not to get involved in accrediting foreign law schools, ending nearly two years of speculation regarding the matter in the international legal education market.

The ABA’s Council of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which had been considering recommendations by a committee of law professors, lawyers and judges on whether to accredit overseas schools that follow a comparable model to the US, voted 15 to nil against the motion, with two abstentions.

The body also acknowledged the need to establish appropriate standards and procedures for the licensing of foreign lawyers who would like to practice in the US.

The news follows over a year of interviews with key stakeholder groups regarding the accreditation of foreign lawyers, with the majority of those interviewed arguing that the move would divert the ABA’s attention and resources at a time of significant financial strain.

The ABA’s Council of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar also raised concerns that such a move would create difficulties for the body, because it would subsequently have to monitor compliance and make sure that the foreign lawyers become accustomed to the ethics of the US legal system.

Professor John Flood of the University of Westminster commented: “The move doesn’t come as a surprise, but it is nonetheless an appalling decision. My understanding is that this decision was driven by quite a lot of sole practitioners in the US who are intimidated by foreigners taking American jobs against the backdrop of a shrinking legal market.”

The move comes as Bar associations around the world are coming under more pressure to make decisions about admitting foreign lawyers as the legal profession becomes increasingly globalised.

Nigel Savage, chief executive of the College of Law, commented: “I would argue that the decision by the ABA represents a great opportunity for the UK to outdo the US – the Solicitors Regulation Authority should focus now on making the English qualification more accessible globally including to US students.”