MOVED YOUR CHEESE?
OF A RAT
by Richardson R. Lynn**
The care and feeding of ABA/AALS Site Inspection Teams becomes critical
every seven years in the life of a law school.2
The care and feeding of ABA/AALS Site Inspection Teams becomes critical
every seven years in the life of a law school.
Because of the annual turnover in our ranks, many deans have yet to
experience the unique combination of terror and fatigue that is a site
For the purposes of this essay, we will not dwell on the benefits to the
legal profession and society that flow from regulating law schools,
much less propose lessening the regulatory detail or argue that a ten year cycle
makes more sense, equally self-evident propositions.
Nor will we discuss the self-unfulfilling circular flight pattern of
schools seeking provisional approval.
If your school is facing an inspection in the next two years, there is
still time to plan for a successful team visit; don=t
tell you when to panic. If your
school faces an inspection during this academic year, panic.
Deans who have not served on a site inspection team should volunteer
immediately. I have learned a great
deal every time,
including the number of good ideas I steal and the number of other ideas that
the visit casts into doubt. I almost
feel guilty while on campus because the value of the visit to me seems to
outweigh whatever benefit I can give the school.
When writing my sections of the report later, I no longer feel guilty.
Self Study That Sings
About two years before the site inspection, the dean should call a
faculty meeting to discuss the upcoming inspection, briefly review the ABA and
AALS expectations, suggest that everyone re-read (or read for the first time)
the ABA Standards for the Accreditation of Law Schools and the AALS By-Laws,
identify any issues that the inspection team or their report may identify,
especially if they can be addressed promptly, and propose how and when the self
study should be written.
While the Dean should take the leading role in writing vision statements and
strategic academic plans (while ensuring that there is faculty buy-in), the self
study must be primarily a faculty document.
This does not mean that the faculty must write the document as a
committee of the whole--a concept that will derail anyone=s
train of thought--but that there is ample opportunity for faculty input,
discussion, and approval of the final draft.
The dean should convince the faculty that drafting, reviewing, and
approving a self study is not an onerous chore, but an exciting chance for
self-reflection, vision, and honesty about the institution.
All deans are so persuasive.
There are basically two models for self study authorship:
appoint a small faculty committee to gather information from various law
school and university offices and write the first draft or appoint a respected
faculty member who can write and is capable of meeting a deadline.
The committee will always be slower and less organized than a good
professor, but the faculty culture and the availability of a willing, competent
individual may determine which model you choose.
Whether a committee or an individual, the drafter should begin work at
least one year before the inspection. The
drafter must have the reports and letters from the ABA and AALS that followed
the last inspection, the most recent reports and letters from the ABA about
foreign programs or LL.M. offerings, copies of the Standards and By-Laws, law
school budget and university financial information, and any recent strategic
academic plan or other documents about the law school=s
aspirations. The drafter
should then seek current data from law school and university offices to include
in the report, interview deans and directors about their roles and
responsibilities, interview faculty committee chairs, and discuss issues in the
self study with as many faculty members as possible while the first official
draft is being written. (The first
official draft likely will represent multiple drafts by the drafter.)
The first draft should be delivered to the faculty for its initial review
at least six months before the inspection, with copies to key university and law
school administrators. After the
first wave of discussion and correction of facts, the faculty should begin the
process of approval. That may start
at the level of faculty committees, with a revised self study presented to the
entire faculty, or it may be a series of faculty meetings devoted to discrete
portions of the self study. Consistency
of style and readability does matter; substantive corrections or additions
approved by the faculty should be written by the drafter so that the document is
The final draft of the self study, after ample time for input from the
faculty and the central university, should be approved by the faculty at least
three months before the site inspection. That
allows sufficient time for printing,
assembling the exhibits, publications, and other material that accompany the
self study. The resulting box of
paper is sent to the
, AALS, and the seven site inspection team members.
During the process of writing the self study, you may discover that the
law school does not comply with a Standard or By-Law, perhaps because they were
amended in the past seven years. While
the dean should be aware of such changes and continuously ensure that the law
school complies, it could happen. If
at all possible, take the time and spend the resources to eliminate the issue
before the self study is finalized. A
school will not be sanctioned for years of non-compliance if, at the time of the
site inspection, the school is in compliance, intends to remain in compliance,
and appears to be able, financially or otherwise, to remain in compliance.
How long should the self study be? For
most law schools, something in the neighborhood of
75-100 single-spaced or printed pages is adequate.
Many self studies are longer because they revel in trivia, include
matters reflecting committee compromises, or are simply verbose.
The annual and site inspection Questionnaires that the law school
completes includes detailed statistics; the self study need not repeat them.
If the team needs to know more about a particular topic (e.g., how does
the library work at a cellular level), they can ask during the visit or in
follow-up questions afterwards while writing their report.
In addition to the Questionnaires, numerous exhibits, publications, and
copies of other documents are necessary to support the self study.
A reference to an exhibit is sufficient, rather than a detailed synopsis.
So long as it satisfies the Standards, there is no reason why the self
study cannot be readable and interesting.
How candid should the self study be?
Obviously, it must not contain false or misleading information, but every
school has blemishes that need not be discussed graphically in the self study.
There is no guarantee of confidentiality when it passes through so many
for one thing, and then there=s
defamation. Probably every member of
every site team has learned negative facts about a school during the visit,
understood why those matters weren=t
in the self study, and never mentioned them in the report.
The dirty linen may involve feuds, within or without the law school,
unfortunate personalities, scandal in the student body, faculty, or staff, or
weird pending litigation. It may
highlight an underlying problem that is clear from the self study, or furnish
the personal background for decisions. Or,
it may just be interesting gossip.
At the same time, do not paper over every controversy or dispute about
the recent history or direction of the law school.
A faculty divided over important law school matters or a principled
conflict between law school needs and university priorities should be fairly
portrayed. A dean who manipulates
every part of the process that is manipulable might receive a virtually perfect
report, but that school will get no helpful advice from the visiting team, nor
pressure from the accreditors that might convince the central university to
improve law school conditions. The
dean knows better than anyone if there is non-compliance or marginal compliance
with the Standards and that it usually results from financial constraints.
university presidents are not intimidated by a negative
or AALS report, an honest, but sympathetic report may help
accelerate improvements in the law school.
for the Visit
Depending on the circumstances, the Consultant=s
office may consult
with the dean about the proposed chair of the team or the team members.
My impression is that this does not happen in every case and the practice
may vary somewhat over time. The
dean has no official role in the naming of team members, but if the dean knows
of issues at the law school suggesting particular expertise that should be
represented on the team, contacting the Consultant=s
office with a request for certain kinds of team members is appropriate.
staff will inform you of the composition of the team well in advance of the
visit. You or someone on your
faculty will know almost all of them, with the possible exception of the
university administrator or lawyer/judge and then you will know someone who
knows them. If a team member has a
possible conflict of interest, the dean should notify the Consultant=s
office; the Consultant=s
office will wish to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
You will work with the chair of the team to schedule the date of the
visit; the Consultant=s
office will only specify that it is a fall or spring visit.
Make it neither too early in the semester to give a complete picture, nor
so late in the semester that everyone is consumed with preparing for finals.
Avoid spring break, as well as the days just before and after it when a
quorum of students and faculty is iffy. Check
the schedules of the president and provost to be sure they are available when
the team is present. If yours is an
independent law school, ensure that the chair of the board of trustees is
available and, perhaps, chairs of trustee committees.
While you are looking at calendars, schedule a short vacation for
yourself after the team leaves.
Your assistant should offer to arrange flights
for the team. You will provide
housing. The hotel should be as nice
as possible as close as possible to the campus.
Keep the team happy by putting them in hotels that turn down covers and
place mints on pillows and keep them from driving far to and from school.
Driving takes time and energy better devoted to visiting classes and
eating in fine restaurants. Driving
is also one of the leading causes of car wrecks, a huge distraction during the
visit. Remember that every
member of the site inspection team is equal, but the chair is more equal.
Reserve a hotel suite for the chair with a large table or conference room
for team meetings.
Rent the team a large
van so they can travel together to and from school and meals and so they will
not be lost separately. If they lose
their way, you want them do it together. Ask
their counterparts on your faculty to meet each team member at the airport,
e.g., the librarian meets the librarian, and convey them to the team hotel.
Make dinner reservations for the team in nice restaurants near the
In addition to the goodwill you earn by providing top-notch
accommodations and dining, these people deserve to be treated well.
They spend approximately one week of their year on this visit, including
the preparation and report writing. For
free. Bury them in kindness.
Select a room in the law school for the team to use as an office, snack
bar, and retreat during the 2 2
days they are on campus. The room
should be centrally located, but not beside classrooms, offices, or other
sources of noise pollution. Or,
where the team might fear being overheard. The
room should be large enough to accommodate the entire team easily with ample
work space and with shelving or tables for extra copies of all the materials
sent to the team, faculty publications, and the other information requested
during the visit. (Even if the team
read the materials in advance of the visit, it is not practical to bring it all
with them.) There should be several
computers with internet access in the room, as well as wiring for laptops,
private phone lines, and other supplies: pens,
paper, and trinkets with the law school logo.
And, most importantly, the room should be supplied with fresh coffee,
juices, soft drinks,
muffins, fruit, cookies, and other snacks. All
Finally, ensure that all professors are on campus during the two full
days when the team is present. The
team will try to visit classes and speak with each of them at least once; those
with committee or other duties may be contacted several times.
Prepare the law school directors and staff for the visit.
While they should be candid and helpful, if there is any doubt about the
propriety or practicality of giving information to the team, or information in a
certain form, tell them to check with the dean first.
If requested information cannot be compiled before the team leaves, it
can be supplied later.
Typically, the visit begins with a tour of the law school and dinner with
the dean and a few law school administrators.
This is a time to discuss any major issues raised by the self study and
any changes in the law school or university since the self study was finalized.
The chair will outline the team=s
goals for the visit, emphasizing that the team is only a fact-finding body and
that its report will go to the Accreditation Committee for determinations about
compliance with the Standards. In
the same way, the AALS summarian will report facts to the Membership Review
Committee and the Executive Committee of the AALS.
During the visit, the team will endeavor to visit all classes, meet with
the faculty, individually and as a group, have entrance and exit interviews with
the president and provost, meet with students, interview key staff members, and,
depending on the schedule, attend a reception with alumni, board members, and
local lawyers and judges. The chair
will deliver the same message about the purpose and limitations of the visit to
each group. The chair of the
committee, as well as individual team members, may visit the deans=
suite repeatedly to verify information, identify the proper faculty or staff
person to ask about certain matters, and list additional information or
statistics that would be helpful.
Neither the dean, nor any associate deans should schedule any other
meetings, or be off campus, while the team is on campus.
On the last day of the visit, the team conducts exit interviews with the
dean and president separately, unless the president wants the dean present.
If separate, the team tells the dean what it will tell the president,
preventing surprise. The team will
briefly remind the president that its purpose was simply to find facts and then
summarize the key facts, both good and less good.
The chair and the team will attempt to answer any questions, but will not
debate its findings at that meeting. Occasionally,
a president will bluster or filibuster, but they are usually quite gracious and
appreciative of the team=s
Following the brief vacation the dean is allowed, any follow-up requests
for information from the team should be dealt with promptly.
report is due about 60 days after the visit ends and is then reviewed by the
general counsel for form, content,
and compliance with the Consent Decree under which the accreditation process is
Thereafter, the law school receives
a copy of the report and is given a chance to correct any errors or omissions in
the report. The report, together
with the law school=s
response, goes to the Accreditation Committee, which will determine whether the
school complies with the Standards or whether it requires further information
before making that determination. Fully
approved schools will be told that accreditation continues while the committee
and the law school exchange letters, resolving and narrowing the issues.
The process can last for years following a site visit and, occasionally,
remains open when the next visit takes place.
When the first wave of letters and responses is completed, your law
school is six and one-half years away from its next inspection.
Or, by my count, four and one-half years away from beginning the next
self study. Time flies when you=re
; Dean, 1997-2003.
site evaluation of a fully approved law school shall be conducted in the
third year following the granting of full approval and every seventh year
Rule 9, Rules of Procedure, http://www.abanet.org/legaled/accreditation/rulesofprocedure/chapterd.html
If the school is also a member of the AALS, as are most
fully-approved ABA law schools, the AALS appoints one member of the team who
writes a separate report focusing on AALS membership requirements.
During the site inspection visit, the AALS Asummarian@
acts as a full member of the
team, as well.
The Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, through the
Office, presents detailed information sessions for schools facing an
upcoming inspection, as well as training for the chairs and members of
site inspection teams, in addition to voluminous written materials.
But see, George Leef, ALowering
July 21, 2003
, p. 36.
Mr. Leef concludes, AIf
we were really concerned about making legal services more affordable and
enabling more minorities to have a shot at entering the profession, we would
turn back the clock to the days before legal education was controlled by the
This sentiment reminds me of the discussion of the line item veto by
a professor who said, AThe
Confederacy had the line item veto. Like
the Confederacy, it failed to catch on.@
If you think proving a negative is hard, try attracting good students who
are likely to pass the bar when good students are usually too smart to
attend a law school that lacks provisional approval.
Well-financed start-ups seem to have the best chance at quick
provisional approval. As Danny
character says in Heist, AOf
course you want money. Everybody
wants money. That=s
why they call it money.@
Although I have served as a member or chair of six site inspection teams, it
goes without saying that this essay reflects my personal opinion and does
not represent the position of the
or the AALS.
Since it goes without saying, I=ll
put it in a footnote.
Standard 202(a) actually requires that law schools Ashall
develop and periodically revise a written self study, which shall include a
mission statement. The self study shall describe the program of legal
education, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the program in light of
mission, set goals to improve the program, and identify the means to
accomplish the law school=s
I have never seen a self study written other than to prepare for a
site inspection or revised between site inspections.
If there is one, it should be enshrined in the
Rather than just photocopying the self study, consider spending the money to
print it. That may impress the
accreditors, but it also makes it useful for other audiences, such as boards
of visitors or alumni support groups. However,
count on royalties from the sale of the self study to fund scholarships,
chairs, or your Jaguar.
ABA Procedural Rule 25 provides for confidentiality of accreditation
information and documents. http://www.abanet.org/legaled/accreditation/rulesofprocedure/chapteri.html
If embarrassing information from a self study is leaked, the site
inspection team and the
are the least likely suspects.
Note to Ed.: Leave that in, that=s
what the Consultant is supposed to do.
The flights should be on FAA-certified carriers, despite the cheaper fares
Airlines. As deans know, NEVER
EVER mess with someone=s
frequent flyer miles.
site inspection last spring, I rented a team van alleged to be capable of
holding seven people. This was
true if two of the seven were as small and lithe as ballerinas.
And, if no luggage was larger than a Subway take-out bag.
If you can=t
find a large van, rent two
Speaking of the Subway take-out bag, on the last night of the Pepperdine
inspection, there was a mix-up in the dinner reservation for the team at
It was not found under my name,
, or the name of any member of
the team. (The reservation may
have been under AJim
just out of habit, but that occurred to us too late.)
The resourceful, yet practical team, led by its resourceful, yet
practical chair, Professor Laura Gasaway, went two doors down to Subway and
carried food to the hotel for a working dinner.
I saved the receipt for the
since it represents the smallest
dinner bill incurred in connection with any
See n. 6, supra. The
more I think about it, an
is a good idea.
Everybody else has a museum. http://vlmp.museophile.com/
Especially adequate supplies of Diet Coke.
I have been on inspection visits where the fleas had fled the hotel, where
there were no good restaurants in the law school=s
or neighboring zip codes, and where faculty members sneaked me whole
sections that Amust
be placed in the report to show what this dean is up to.@
These things happen. The
only really unforgivable lapses are stale coffee, running out of Diet Coke,
or weak snacks. If it=s
supposed to be a blueberry muffin, I want to see blueberries in it.
recent inspection, I felt as unloved as the Maytag repairman because no one
was visiting me, as I had repeatedly visited with the dean when I helped
inspect schools. On the
afternoon of the second day, I sent to the team=s
room the Top 10 Reasons Why None of the Site Team Visited Dean Lynn,
Afraid we would lose our train of thought while staring out his
Professor X says
is a Great Big Hamster.
trust a guy who has a last name for a first name.
One word: Bowties
team fired back the Real Ten Reasons The Site Guys Haven=t
Been To The Dean=s
Most of us spent too much time being called to the Dean=s
office while students.
having enough trouble finishing all the food that keeps coming into our room
to get out of
here to see anyone.
been searching for the Faculty Appointments committee to see if there are
any openings in our field.
bowties are bad enough scenery all by themselves.
(referring to Carr Ferguson, distinguished scholar, practitioner, and
suspected author of the team=s
While the AALS timetable is not linked to the
the process is essentially the same.