May 7, 2012
Requiring Skills for Admission to the California Bar: Two high profile law deans not happy about that prospect
In State bar wants to call the tune: California weighs law schools skills mandate, NJL's Karen Sloan reported that the State Bar of California plans to examine whether some level of skill training will be required before being admitted to practice in California. Options include an "internship or mentorship program; a set number of skills-training hours; or a year-long course for 3Ls that covers real-world lawyering skills," according to Sloan. New York state has already taken the matter of attempting to admit "practice ready" attorneys. "The New York Courts are about to do something that will affect how law schools prepare their students for practice," wrote LLB's Mark Giangrande in NY Court of Appeals To Require 50 Hours of Pro Bono Service For Bar Takers.
In California, two high profile deans, Stanford Law's Larry Kramer and UC-Irvine's Erwin Chemerinsky, aren't happy if any such skill requirement requires changes to their curriculum. Quoting from Sloan's article:
My personal judgment is that we don't need this right now," said Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer, noting that many law schools have been moving to add clinics and other skills-based courses. "I think they're being a little too quick without recognizing what's already going on."
"I have very mixed feelings," [Chemerinsky] said. "On the one hand, I stringently support skills training in law school. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of the state bar saying, 'This is what you should be teaching.'…Law schools should decide what they teach. Not the bar."
Law schools do decide what to teach, "not the Bar". Imagine the chorus of pushing-back California law school deans singing "this will raise tuition because we will have to hire more legal skills profs since most of our regular faculty members don't know a thing above teaching students how to practice law" if revised State Bar requirements were to produce anything remotely resembling a full 3L year long skills course to prepare students to practice law in California.
"This is not a new issue," said State Bar of California Executive Director Joseph Dunn. "The debate about practical skills training has been long-standing within legal academia. But because of their paralysis, in the last few years the debate has started to seep into the regulatory bodies at the state level that govern the admission to the practice of law."
The state bar lacks authority to mandate law school curricula, Dunn noted, but schools in California would have little choice but to adjust should the bar go in that direction. Dunn predicted that law schools will push back, as they have in previous years when bar regulators have taken up the training issue.
Call me cynical but would Moot Court, Clinics, and Legal Research & Writing be pushed to the 3L curriculum by some California law schools? (NB: I'm not implying that Stanford or UC-Irving would; UC-Irving, for example, has been addressing this matter since it opened its doors.) Hell, the case can be made that those courses should be required in the third year in the first place. At least then law school students could apply their 1L and 2L understanding of legal doctrines to something remotely similar to real world lawyering.
The case can also be made that California law school grads would have a competitive advantage over out-of-state grads for landing in-state employment -- at least until other states require comparable skills training. The paralysis Dunn refers to certainly is not isolated to California law schools. Wait 'n see. The California Bar's Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform is scheduled to issue its recommendations in December 2013. [JH]