Note that the SJC will be holding a public hearing on Dec. 1 in Bangor on Husson's renewed application for pre-approval of its graduates to take the Maine bar exam. Here's a link to the relevant notice, which, in turn, links to the relevant filings:
As an ex-Chair of the Maine Bar Examiners, here's my two cents. Under no circumstances should one proceed under the misapprehension that the bar exam alone can identify competent lawyers and weed out those who are not. I could go on in some detail, but however statistically supported the NCBE's multi-state component, and however carefully the Board prepares its own Maine essay questions, the bar exam at most probes just a very limited snapshot of knowledge. We have to protect people who go to lawyers – each client, whatever his or her income or resources, deserves adequate and competent representation. The benefit of reliance on ABA accreditation is that the ABA does much of the heavy lifting in identifying the benchmarks of an adequate legal education. It might not be the exclusive arbiter, but if you don't rely on its criteria, then you have to have a viable alternative. Husson suggests a new Maine accreditation review process. But then wouldn't we need a whole process for reviewing the adequacy of that new review process before we could rely on it? Which would cost a lot in terms of time, money, resources and deliberation in itself.
Husson's goal of lowering the costs of a legal education is extremely laudable. I went to one of the most expensive law schools around (Northwestern), spent ten long years paying back those loans, and things are just getting worse for students today. The huge price tag on a legal education limits choices that new lawyers make in starting their careers, and any creative thinking about solutions is a positive. But my experience as a bar examiner teaches me that crafting methods for testing competency is very, very hard. The current standard – graduation from an ABA accredited school and passing the bar exam - is certainly flawed. Accredited law schools are revisiting their own programs to become more hands-on, with less Socratic theorizing – for example, Washington & Lee has a new third year program that focuses on practical, clinic type work. But the risk to the public is just too high to rely on the market or untested alternatives. If Maine does decide to use its own alternative accreditation process, we had better have confidence in its adequacy before we rely on it.