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Guiding American legal education

Dean John F. O'Brien

(Boston Revised 09/08/11) New England Law | Boston: Dean John F. O’Brien has assumed the chairmanship of the Council of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. He will bring to this role both his unequaled experience as the longest-serving law school dean in the country and his previous service on the Council and its Accreditation Committee. During the coming year, he will guide the Section’s work, which includes oversight of national law school standards and policies; conducting the accreditation process for new law schools; and reaccreditation of approved law schools.

Dean O’Brien’s new role commenced as part of the proceedings of the ABA’s annual meeting, held August 4-9 in Toronto. Dean O’Brien previously served as chair-elect of the Section in 2010-2011 and as vice chair in 2009-2010.

“This is an exciting time to become chair of the ABA section that oversees legal education,” said Dean O’Brien. “The U.S. Department of Education requires the ABA to review its accreditation standards for law schools periodically, and that updating process will take place while I am chair. I hope that we will be able to make the reaccreditation process smoother and less burdensome for law schools, so less effort is spent on documenting what we do and more time can be devoted to focusing on our core mission of educating future lawyers.”

Among the other issues that Dean O’Brien expects to address is the job market for new lawyers. “All law schools are facing the reality that the legal market is suffering, as are almost all sectors of the economy, from a pervasive and widespread global economic crisis, and we must help our students and graduates get through these times,” he said. “At the same time, employment transparency by law schools is a real and significant goal that we have to address.”

Martin C. Foster ’80, chairman of the New England Law board of trustees, praised Dean O’Brien’s election as chair. “The Council could not have found a better, more determined leader,” he said. “There is no one in the field of legal education who is more dedicated to law school excellence, more devoted to students and alumni, or more able to achieve the goals he sets for an institution or organization. We at New England Law have witnessed Dean O’Brien’s effectiveness, and we are very proud to see him take those skills to the national stage.”

Hon. Christine M. Durham, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Utah, is the immediate past chair of the Council.  “Dean O' Brien has been of invaluable assistance to me in my year of leadership and is well prepared for the work facing the Council in the coming year,” said Chief Justice Durham.  “He brings a lifetime of experience with legal education and has served the accreditation project in a multitude of ways for many years.  I expect that the processes and reputation of the Council will be greatly enhanced by his time at the helm.”

The Section, established in 1893, is the ABA’s oldest. It traces its origins to the ABA’s founding in 1878, when one of the first standing committees to be named was the Committee on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

The Section's Council, which Dean O’Brien will lead, and the Accreditation Committee are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) as the national accrediting agency for programs leading to the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. All state supreme courts recognize ABA-approved law schools as meeting the legal education requirements to qualify for the bar examination; 46 states limit eligibility for bar admission to graduates of ABA-approved schools.

The Section comprises a 10,000 member group that strives to improve legal education and lawyer licensing by fostering cooperation among legal educators, practitioners, and judges through workshops, conferences, and publications. The Section also studies and makes recommendations for the improvement of the bar admission process.

Dean O’Brien previously served as chair of the ABA’s Accreditation Committee, which reviews all nationally accredited American law schools and oversees efforts to uphold standards set by the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Before serving as chair of the Accreditation Committee, he was involved in the accreditation process as a special fact-finder and as both member and chair of law school evaluation teams. He has also served as chair of the ABA’s Independent Law Schools Committee.

His extensive service to the profession and the community also includes three years as president of the Consortium for Innovative Legal Education, Inc., a group of four law schools that offers joint study abroad programs and visit-in policies for students. He is a former member of Boston’s civilian police review board, formally known as the Community Ombudsman Oversight Program, which reviews accusations of serious misconduct against Boston police officers.

Dean O’Brien received a B.A. in 1973 from Manhattan College; a J.D. in 1977 from New England Law | Boston, where he graduated first in his class; and an LL.M. (master’s in law) in taxation in 1980 from Boston University School of Law. From 1977 to 1985, he was a senior attorney in the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service, heading the northeast region’s tax shelter program.

He joined the faculty of New England Law | Boston in 1985 and served as associate dean for two years before being named dean. He has the longest continuous service at a single institution of any law school dean in the country.

He is admitted to practice in Massachusetts, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the United States Tax Court, and the United States Supreme Court. He has received honorary doctor of laws degrees from New England Law | Boston (1998) and from Manhattan College (2006).

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