Thursday, March 14, 2013

Illinois Bar Association: Special Committee Report--On Legal Education Reform

The Illinois Bar Association: Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services has just issued its Final Report & Recommendations.  I think that this Report will become a very important document for reforming the legal profession, law schools, and legal education.  While this report has many findings and recommendations, especially on the effect of law school debt, I would like to concentrate on its findings and recommendations concerning the delivery of legal education in this post.  I am sure that my co-bloggers and I will have more on this important Report in the next few days.

The Report states, "The Special Committee concluded that, given the dynamics discussed above, the training that law students receive in law school today is increasingly not worth its high cost—essentially creating a “perfect” storm. The problems with the current legal education model go beyond the difficult economic climate. In fact, the Special Committee received testimony that the tight job market facing recent law school graduates may have—at least in part—resulted from the inadequate training of law students for the jobs that are available. The majority of lawyers who testified indicated that new lawyers are not adequately prepared for practice, and that hiring partners have consequently become less willing to hire new lawyers, preferring instead those with a minimum of several years of experience. The inadequate “practice ready” skills of new graduates has apparently contributed to the reality that only 55% of the law school class of 2011 had full time, permanent jobs that required a JD nine months after graduation."

Among the findings of the Report are:

1. "Law schools place an inordinate focus on academic scholarship. Although they are paid more, faculty today teach less and have fewer administrative responsibilities than several decades ago, all in the name of granting more time for scholarship."

2. "Law schools fail to provide adequate opportunities for law students to practice legal writing skills in the context of problems that might arise in a typical practice setting."

3. "Law students do not receive adequate feedback on their performance during law school."

4. "The faculty tenure requirements of most law schools, along with law schools’ focus on academic scholarship, deemphasizes practice experience as a qualification. As a result, many faculty lack the practice experience that would assist them in training the next generation of lawyers and judges."

Recommendations: "Law schools themselves must transform their curricula to focus on educating lawyers for practice."

1. Focus on practice-oriented courses: "Law schools should prioritize simulation courses, live-client clinics, and other courses that give students the opportunity to learn and apply legal principles in the context of real life problems. . . . At the same time, law schools should integrate practical exercises into traditional doctrinal courses so that students begin to learn to practice law from the beginning of law school."

2. Provide fewer exotic courses: "Law schools should cut back on courses such as “Law and Literature” that focus exclusively on the academic study of law, with no practical application."

3. Provide more writing assignments and constructive criticism: "More law school courses should include writing assignments and opportunities for students to receive feedback on their work prior to the final exam."

4. Teach law office management.

5. Teach a bar review course.

6. Transform the second and third years of law school: "Law schools should use the second and third years of law school to help students transition to practice through apprenticeships in practice settings, practical courses, and teaching assistantships, rather than more traditional doctrinal courses. The Special Committee does not believe the third year of law school should be cut, as doing so would likely leave graduates even less prepared to practice than they are currently."

7. Change tenure and hiring requirements to put less emphasis on scholarship: "Law schools should prioritize teaching ability and practice skills when hiring and granting tenure, rather than academic scholarship."

8. Use practitioners and judges on hiring and tenure committees.

9. Use more properly-trained and supervised adjunct faculty.

10. Give clinical and legal writing faculty an equal say in governance: "Clinical and legal writing faculty should have the same responsibilities with respect to law school governance as traditional faculty."

(Scott Fruehwald)

| Permalink


The findings and recommendations are a virtual blueprint for the law school the ABA refused to accredit some twenty years ago, a school where I've had the pleasure of teaching for those years and about which I wrote for the Journal of Legal Education in 1998: "MEETING THE MACCRATE OBJECTIVES (AFFORDABLY): MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOL OF LAW," 48 J. Legal Educ. 229.

It's good to see that the Illinois Bar seems to be addressing the issues without the same circle-the-wagons approach taken by a similar panel of the Massachusetts Bar, aiming to protect the profession and the establishment law schools from competition by restricting access to law schools and to the bar, though the restrictions on borrowing recommended by the Illinois panel are more likely to exclude the needy than to drive down law school fees.

Andy Starkis

Posted by: Andrej Starkis | Mar 14, 2013 2:37:48 PM

It seems to me that the most controversial recommendations have to do with deemphasizing scholarship. ABA & AALS standards will have to change for this to happen.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 14, 2013 2:03:26 PM

Post a comment