R.I. Bar exclusion costs many groups<br> access to a law career

The chief justice of the R.I. Supreme Court, Frank Williams, has in the past addressed students at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, Mass., and has even taught a class there. On another occasion he spoke at a conference at MSL. On still another occasion he was the commencement speaker at the school and, of course, received an honorary doctorate.
It would thus seem pretty strange that Rhode Island, alone among the states of New England, does not permit MSL graduates to take the bar exam immediately after, or only shortly after, they receive their law degrees.
What accounts for this anomaly? It is that the bar authorities of Rhode Island are the only ones in New England that undeviatingly adhere to the retrograde accreditation policies urged on all bar authorities by the socially and economically elitist American Bar Association.
The ABA’s accreditation arm is run by law professors, law deans and law librarians. For 35 years they have used ABA accreditation to insure themselves plush professional perquisites: few hours of teaching, little administrative work, regular paid sabbaticals, very fancy buildings now costing $70 million to $80 million and, until the U.S. Department of Justice brought an antitrust case putting the practice to a stop, very high and ever-increasing salaries.
(Since the DOJ’s suit, the ABA accreditors can no longer force law schools to pay very high salaries, but the schools voluntarily continue to do so anyway, so that salaries ranging from $200,000 to $300,000 dollars per year are reasonably common.)
The result of these ABA accreditation rules is that as law schools’ costs have risen dramatically, tuitions have risen accordingly. The average law school tuition in New England now exceeds $29,000 per year (the tuition at Roger Williams University’s Ralph R. Papitto School of Law is $28,710 per year), and ordinary people are financially excluded from law schools, not to mention academically excluded by the ABA’s insistence on high LSAT scores.
The people who run the ABA’s socially retrogressive accreditation – that is, the law professors, deans and librarians who have used it to benefit themselves, and whose lead the Rhode Island bar authorities follow – fear and dislike MSL, and in the first half of the 1990s did everything they could – unsuccessfully – to destroy the school. For, you see, MSL is a real threat to the model which they have forced on almost all other schools.
The clientele MSL seeks and educates is composed of people whom the ABA accreditors deliberately cause to remain largely unserved: people from working-class backgrounds, immigrants, people in midlife who wish to change careers, minorities.
MSL keeps its tuition low in order to serve this clientele: Its annual tuition of $13,330 is less than half of the average of more than $29,000 at the ABA schools in New England. Its professors teach more hours than those at ABA schools. They do administrative work. They don’t get paid sabbaticals.
Unlike the ABA schools, MSL teaches all students the practical skills, not just the academic knowledge, needed by lawyers. MSL rejects use of the exclusionary LSAT. And 85 percent of MSL’s graduates pass the Massachusetts bar exam, the same exam taken by “elite” graduates from schools such as Harvard.
This kind of school is a threat to the high-cost, elitist model that the ABA has imposed on almost every other law school, and it is therefore a threat to the plush life the ABA accreditors have built for themselves by persuading bar authorities such as those of Rhode Island to adhere to the policies urged upon them by the ABA.
Lawrence R. Velvel is dean and co-founder of The Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. He may be reached at velvel@mslaw.edu.

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