Monday, January 11, 2010

Bar Counsel Professionalism Report Now Available

The National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC) has drafted a professionalism report for consideration by law schools. The report may be found through this link. The conclusion:

It is time for law school accreditation standards to require law schools to develop plans for meeting the goal of inculcation of professional identities.  Those plans should reflect a higher level of commitment to instilling the professional values outlined in the Carnegie Report.  Each plan should also reflect ways of measuring that commitment.  Great steps are already being made by some schools by way of innovative reforms, but as the ABA Professionalism Committee's Survey on Professionalism found, the efforts need to be more continuous and comprehensive throughout all three years of law school.  (“Report on a Survey of Law School Professionalism Programs,” March 2006, Introduction and Executive Summary, p. ii)  Justice Veasey, who chaired the ABA Ethics 2000 Commission, has said that we are engaged in a battle for the soul of our legal profession.  (E. Norman Veasey, “The Role of State Supreme Courts in Addressing Professionalism of Lawyers and Judges, Keynote Address at ABA Conference: Regulatory Authority over the Legal profession and the Judiciary: The Responsibility of State Supreme Courts,” March 14-15, 1997)  If not tied to a person of high character, a well-trained legal mind combined with a well-established skill set can be a danger to both society and the clients the profession serves.

Placing a greater emphasis on the values and conduct of law students will not be easy and will surely present challenges.  Study will be needed to determine the most effective ways to inculcate professional values.  In addition to providing a basis for determining the effectiveness of specific approaches in dealing with early signs of unprofessional conduct, a school’s adoption of particular remediation measures will signal a changed attitude toward the development of appropriate professional identities in law students.

NOBC does not ask for a uniform approach to meeting these important goals.  One school may set forth a plan with a new remediation program such as an ethics school.  Another may start with a more comprehensive code of conduct.  Another institution may place an emphasis on a changed third year with more clinics, simulations and practical training.  What NOBC calls for, however, is recognition that all schools should be held accountable for meeting the goals of the Carnegie Report.  How schools will meet those goals should be specifically stated in professionalism plans with outcome and input measures.  The more continuous and comprehensive the process, the more likely the goal will be met.  The more specific the plan, the easier it will be to replicate successful efforts and learn what works and what does not work.

Because law schools have this significant opportunity to shape the professional identity of lawyers, schools must be accredited in a way that their commitment to professional identity development is encouraged, required and measurable.  Only by doing so can we meet the expectations of our profession and society.  We must not only say that professional identity and character count; we must also demonstrate that they are foremost in the requirements for becoming an attorney.

NOBC joins in the call of the ABA Outcome Measures Committee that law schools be required to define goals, specific approaches and methods to measure commitment and success.  NOBC hopes this report will assist in continuing that movement.

(Mike Frisch)

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