The Gathering Peasants Revolt In Legal Education was inspired by an unusual fact: For the first time, a large number of law deans, law professors, practicing lawyers, and associations of lawyers recently spoke out publicly against the law school accrediting arm of the American Bar Association.
In speaking out, they have for the first time said publicly what many have long felt privately but were afraid to say for fear of retribution against their schools by accreditors. For the first time, they have also said publicly what the Massachusetts School of Law and its Dean, Lawrence Velvel, have been saying for 20 years. This was so surprising to Velvel that he and Professor Kurt Olson wrote a short, 100-pages-long book detailing the problems created by the ABA accreditors and extensively quoting the recent statements by so many others.
The “casus belli” for the recent statements by deans, professors. and others is a new ABA accrediting rule that may well destroy the approximately six historically black ABA law schools that specialize in educating African Americans, as well as causing 10 or so schools that now educate large numbers of African Americans and Hispanic Americans to stop admitting these minorities.
So upset has much of the law school world and some of the practicing world become over this new accrediting rule that their criticisms have not been confined to the new rule alone. Instead, many long-suppressed resentments have boiled over, leading to wide ranging criticisms of much of ABA accreditation, criticisms that previously were stifled for fear of retribution from the accreditors.
The new accrediting rule that may well destroy legal education for minorities is a rule requiring high bar passage rates — especially high passage rates for first-time takers of bar exams. Studies show that a much smaller percentage of African American law graduates pass the bar exam than Caucasians. The ABA ’s new rule demands such high passing percentages that in many states the required percentages far exceed the national average of African American passers. Historically black law schools, and other schools that educate large numbers of African American students, are liable to have Bar passage rates below those required by the ABA accreditors, and will therefore lose their ABA accreditation.
Since in over 45 out of 50 states a law school cannot operate without ABA accreditation, the loss of accreditation by schools serving minorities will make it far harder for the minorities to obtain a legal education than it already is: already 63 percent of African Americans and 49 percent of Hispanic American applicants are denied admission to every single law school to which they apply, and only about 6 to 7 percent of law school student bodies are African American (and only about 4.5 percent are Hispanic American).
Minorities are thus already kept out and will even more extensively be kept out of the profession — law — which has more to say about what happens in this country than any other. Lawyers, after all, make up half or more of legislators, are governors, and are all the judges (except for some traffic judges or justices of the peace). It should be no surprise to anyone that the first black candidate for President, Barack Obama, is a lawyer. (Bucking the general exclusion of minorities, Velvel’s school, the Massachusetts School of Law, is almost 15 percent African American despite the small percentage of African Americans in the population of northern New England , and is over 25 percent minority in toto.)
One of the reasons minorities are kept out of the legal profession is that the ABA accreditors demand high scores on the Law School Admission Test, the infamous LSAT. The accreditors demand higher scores than most African Americans get. As well, even when minorities do get admitted to law schools (to the now threatened historically black schools), the major portion of the bar exam is the same type of test as the LSAT — a multiple choice, so-called “objective” test, that also happens to be “speeded,” – that is, requires very fast reading.
People who do not do well on the LSAT do not do well on the Bar exam, since it is the same kind of test. So minorities are generally excluded from law schools because of the LSAT, and if they do gain admission, are subsequently excluded from the bar by the LSAT-like bar exam.
Velvel says that this is reprehensible, even morally criminal, because “so many of the people who are excluded were fine college students, would be fine law students, and would be excellent lawyers. This is shown by our own school’s experience. We do not use the LSAT and have lots of minority students who do very well in a very rigorous law school and who become fine practicing lawyers.”
The 100-pages-long Gathering Peasants Revolt In American Legal Education (Doukathsan Press) details all of this, as well as explaining how numerous ABA accreditation rules deliberately create very high costs that result in tuitions that most minorities cannot afford. (Rules requiring huge full time faculties who sometimes get paid $250,000 to $350,000 per year, palace-like buildings now running $70 million to build, gigantic and expensive administrative staffs, and libraries with hundreds of thousands or even millions of books that now average over $120 per book, have driven up tuitions in the Northeast to the point where most law schools in New England and New York now charge tuitions ranging from $30,000 per year to $44,000 per year. By eschewing such unnecessary, cost raising practices, Velvel’s Massachusetts School of Law charges far less in tuition — $14,490 per year.)
The Gathering Peasants Revolt explains why the ABA accreditors have now adopted a new rule — contrary to virtually every comment made to them orally or in writing — that could destroy schools that serve minorities and thereby exclude most African Americans from legal education. The accreditors have done this because of fear of the Bush Department of Education. Knowing full well that its action threatens education of minorities, the Bush DOE has demanded that the ABA accreditors adopt a rule that will require high bar passage rates, particularly high first-time-taker-pass rates (even in states where the passage rates are low for all first-time takers).
The DOE has made plain that it will terminate the ABA accrediting arm’s status as a nationally recognized accrediting body if the ABA does not enact a stringent bar passage rule. Terrified of such action against it by DOE, the ABA collapsed, as explained in Peasants Revolt. Against the virtually unanimous opinions of commentators on its new rule, it enacted a new accreditation rule that will play hob with minorities.
Velvel says that “the ABA ’s action — its collapse in the face of DOE pressure (instead of, for example, taking the DOE to court) — is reprehensible. The more so because the accreditors do not obtain their (monopoly) power over legal education from DOE. They obtain it from having propagandized state supreme courts for 84 years to make ABA accreditation a sine qua non, in the vast majority of states, if a school’s graduates are to take bar exams. The state supreme courts have unthinkingly gone along with this, in part because it makes life easy for them even though so many ABA accrediting rules are educationally and socially reprehensible, and in part because so much of the legal profession is one big intertwined monopoly that includes both judges and lawyers.”
Velvel adds that, “One thing that has puzzled me, however, is that African American and Hispanic American state supreme court justices have not rebelled against an accreditation regime which keeps so many of their own people out of the legal profession. There are lots of African American and Hispanic American state supreme court justices. If they were to speak out and act against an accreditation regime that keeps their own people out of a powerful profession, you can bet that things would change pretty quick.”
All of the foregoing and more is detailed in The Gathering Peasants Revolt In American Legal Education. I urge you to read this short book to learn what is happening in the legal profession — how minorities are still getting the short end of the stick. And I urge reviewers to review the book and tell their readers about what is going on in the legal profession. Most members of the public have no idea right now.
By Sherwood Ross