Sunday, February 10, 2013

New York Times: A Call for Drastic Changes in Educating New Lawyers

The New York Times has an article on the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education's public hearing in Dallas over the weekend.  The article states, "While a few schools are freezing tuition and others are increasing hands-on learning, critics are increasingly saying that the legal academy cannot solve its own problems, partly because of the vested interests of tenured professors tied to an antiquated system. Effective solutions, they insist, will have to be imposed from the outside. . . .  Since law schools are regulated by state courts, that means convincing top state judges of the necessity of major change."

Some excerpts: 

"Paula Littlewood, a task force member and the executive director of the Washington State Bar Association, put it this way to her colleagues: 'There’s a time for incremental change and a time for bold change. This is the time for bold change.'"

"Nicholas W. Allard, who became the dean of Brooklyn Law School in New York last summer after a career in government and private practice, said that in the past, graduates of elite schools arrived at major law firms with little knowledge of the actual practice of law. As a result, corporations hiring those firms felt that their large hourly bills were in effect going to train those graduates, who were assigned some of their work. Mr. Allard said those corporations are no longer willing to do that. As a result, he said, law schools need to have far more practical training and closer ties to the legal profession. That has led a number of schools to choose deans from within the profession, like Mr. Allard, rather than from academia."

"Derek M. Tokaz, the research director of Law School Transparency, a legal education policy group that seeks to guide some of the changes, told the gathering that drastic changes were needed in student loans and accreditation. Rather than start with the number of required classroom minutes or student-teacher ratio, Mr. Tokaz said, what students need to know upon graduation should be agreed upon first."

"As the meeting ended, one task force member, Michael P. Downey of St. Louis, summed it up. 'The house is on fire,' he said. 'We don’t want a report that sits on a shelf.'"

These commentators are right; it's time to make major changes in legal education.  Law schools need to change their primary mission to one of turning out practice-ready law graduates who can serve the public.  They need to change their curricula and their teaching methods.  They need to make sure that their students don't graduate with crushing debt.  And, the legal profession must make certain that the legal needs of all, rich and poor, are served.

The ABA Task Force may finally be the organization that gets this done.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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