Joining the chorus of criticism of legal education today is one of the American Bar Association’s most persistent critics.
Massachusetts School of Law is not accredited by the ABA, has sued the organization repeatedly for alleged anti-trust violations, and continues to press for an end to the ABA’s authority over American law schools.
The school of 600 has fought for 15 years, so the recent widely publicized criticism of the cost and focus of American law schools must afford some comfort to the self declared “leader in the reform of legal education.”
The Mouse Continues to Roar
“So to the ABA: Spare us the kind words and coronets. Reform our higher education system now,” according to a recent missive from Michael L. Coyne, associate dean.
“Allow innovative, low-cost colleges and law schools to develop. Let those schools compete on an even footing with the barons in their ivy-towered campuses who preside over schools for students to whom money does not matter.”
Although unaccredited by the ABA, School of Law graduates are eligible to take bar examinations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. If successful, most other New England states allow avenues to admission as well.
Night Classes, Practicing Instructors
The school was founded on principles that may seem unrelated to traditional law school education: to provide a “practical” and “affordable,” as well as quality legal education. The school says it charges just over one-third of the average ABA-accredited school tuition. It has also tussled with the national group over faculty standards; the Massachusetts School of Law, emphasizing preparation for the practice of law, encourages its faculty and instructors to practice.
Coyne presses a sore spot: costs. He points out that ABA-accredited schools have doubled tuition in the last nine years, during a period when inflation increased less than 25%.
Recent criticism of the accuracy of law school data on the success of typical graduates has lead to questions about the real value of a law degree. Coyne asserts that “our country’s middle class finds itself hard-pressed to see the promise of opportunity that a law degree provides as nothing more than a mirage on an ever elusive horizon.”
Coyne’s letter appeared in the National Law Journal.
Attacks ABA’s “Exclusive Club”
The school, which presents classes at nights and on weekends, as well as weekdays, cites FTC legal papers supporting its challenge to what the school called the ABA “iron fisted” monopoly rule of legal education.
According to the FTC brief, “there is a potential for abuse when accreditation standards are promulgated and applied by economically interested parties who possess the ability to raise barriers to entry or to destroy a rival’s ability to compete by misleading consumers.”
The school trains law students “not to just think like lawyers but how to act like lawyers while representing real clients.” That approach, according to Coyne, threatens the ABA’s reason for existence: “ensuring high fees for lawyers by charging exorbitant admissions fees to enter its exclusive club.”