CHICAGO — The American Bar Association sent the law school world into a tizzy with the introduction of soccer-style relegation for under-performing institutions. The organization claims the move will address concerns over the quality of legal education and benefit students.
To accommodate the controversial new program, the ABA announced a new partnership with the publishers of the popular U.S. News & World Report ranking of “Best Law Schools”. The magazine will begin ranking the nation’s bottom-25 law schools and begin ranking the top-25 best paralegal programs in the country.
Under the system, institutions finishing in the bottom-10 slots of metrics used to rank law schools in the U.S. News will be forced to drop their J.D. programs and convert into paralegal programs. Conversely, the top-10 finishing ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs will be permitted to elevate into J.D. programs. In exchange for providing the new information, the ABA licensed the U.S. News as “The official rankings agency of the American Bar Association.”
ABA President, Stephen N. Zack, proclaimed the initiative to the masses from the balcony of the organization’s downtown Chicago headquarters.
“A new era is at hand,” declared the organization’s leader, “To the dregs at the bottom of the U.S News rankings we say, ‘no more!’ If you can’t improve it, you will lose it.”
The concept of relegation, while popular in European sports leagues, has not been tried in an education system before. Students at relegated law schools will be allowed to transfer to any remaining J.D. program that will accept them. Any student who cannot find a transfer program may stay at their school but will only be able to graduate from a paralegal program. Students at former paralegal programs will be given the option to complete their existing paralegal track or start fresh with automatic acceptance to the school’s new J.D. program the following year. Schools with both J.D. and paralegal programs, like Georgetown University, will not be permitted to elevate their paralegal program unless their existing J.D. program has previously been relegated.
The ABA claims it will benefit law students by increasing competition between existing schools and discouraging the entry of any future programs that might dilute the quality of the legal profession. Not all law schools are pleased with the idea. Administrators from a law school in Lansing, Michigan, speaking on condition of anonymity, declare the relegation concept to be an act of unacceptable bias towards programs that educate thousands of attorneys.
“The ABA and legal establishment have had it out for us for years,” noted the unnamed law school dean, “This latest move is just another unfair attack on those of us providing education to anyone who can afford it!”
For its part, the ABA notes that relegation does not reduce the total number of law schools, but rather gives new law schools “a chance to compete” with an opportunity to improve on the issues faced by demoted schools that perennially rank at the bottom of academics, employment figures and reputation.
On the other side of the equation, most law schools in the top-20 declined to comment for this story; however an email received from the office of the dean of Columbia Law School contained the short fragment “not our problem.”
Meanwhile, several ABA Approved Paralegal Programs declared their intentions to rise to the top of the first set of U.S. News paralegal rankings and launch lucrative J.D. programs. Officials from a variety of schools, ranging from four-year institutions such as Ball State University and community colleges such as the College of the Canyons, envision promotion as a ticket to academic prestige.
When asked what will happen if the need for lawyers begins to outstrip the total number of graduates, Zack laughed: “By the time we get that far, most legal work will be handled in India and China.”