Sunday, July 7, 2013
As this blog has previously noted (here), the Clinical Legal Education Association has petitioned the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to require law schools to offer 15 hours of experiential education in the second and third years. I believe that the ABA should grant this petition. Today's post will give reasons for supporting the petition based on CLEA's reasoning. Part II will show how CLEA's petition is supported by general education research.
Some excerpts from the CLEA Press Release (here):
"Repeated ABA studies have shown the need to enhance significantly the professional skills training of students in law schools. However, the Section has done very little to address these persistent calls for reform. Current law school accreditation standards only require a single credit of experiential learning out of an average of 89 total academic credits, a dismal 1% of a law student’s preparation for practice. Other professions (such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, veterinary, social work, etc.) require that at least one quarter, and up to more than one half, of a graduate’s pre-licensing education be in role in supervised professional practice."
"The Council has a duty, as the agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education for the accreditation of law schools, to ensure that its standards meet the training needs of law students and the interests of the public. CLEA contends that the present standards do not adequately prepare students for the practice of law and that 15 hours of professional experience (representing about one-sixth of a student’s total credit hours) are certainly the minimum necessary to ensure that law school graduates are competent to begin practicing law. Concerned that the ABA was not doing enough, the California State Bar Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform recently proposed a similar pre-admission practical skills training program for all law students seeking admission to the California bar."
From CLINICAL LEGAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (CLEA) COMMENT TO ABA TASK FORCE ON THE FUTURE OF LEGAL EDUCATION (here):
"The educational case for requiring every law student to have significant experiential training is no longer seriously debated. A long line of reports by ABA special committees, beginning with the 1979 Report and Recommendation of the Task Force on Lawyer Competency: The Role of Law Schools ("Compton Report") and including the well-publicized 1992 Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession ("MacCrate Report"), have urged much greater attention to professional experiences in law school curricula. Recent law graduates have also voiced strong support for clinical and experiential legal education. The ABA’s 2004 After the JD report surveyed recent law school graduates. When asked what was most helpful in theirtransition to practice, they highlighted professional skills training: legal employment during summers and school year, clinical courses, legal writing courses, and internships. Lagging behind were the doctrinal courses that still dominate legal education. Two recent studies from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) demonstrate the importance of requiring law clinic or externship experiences for all students. In a survey of new nonprofit and government lawyers, more than 83% rated legal clinics as "very useful" in preparing them for the practice of law, with externships/field placements rated as "very useful" by 72%. In a similar survey of new associates in private law firms, almost two-thirds (63%) rated legal clinics as "very useful," followed closely by externships/field placements (60%)."
"The Task Force is right to look to other disciplines for guidance. The comparison is stark and instructive as the professional education training and licensing of lawyers falls far behind the other professions. Other professions require that at least one-quarter, and up to more than one half, of a graduate’s pre-licensing education be in-role in supervised professional practice."
"The suggestion made by some commentators that law schools should focus on learning to "think like a lawyer" and leave development of other critical lawyering skills to law graduates’ first jobs is wrong. While this argument may make sense in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, where only a small fraction of students obtaining a law degree seek admission to practice, it does not make sense in the United States where a large majority of law school graduates take the bar. Unlike other countries, the primary focus of legal education on legal analysis and legal doctrine is misplaced in the United States where there is no required apprenticeship to qualify for legal practice as there is in these other countries. In the United States, a law school graduate can currently be licensed to practice law in all states without additional pre-admission practice or training."
The absence of substantial opportunities for clinical legal education in many schools and for many students leaves the responsibility and cost of preparation for practice to employers, clients, and law graduates themselves. They simply are not likely to get that preparation in the current rapidly evolving legal job market. Few legal employers have well-structured programs to train new lawyers. Many law graduates open solo practices as soon as they pass the bar, and in the current economy this trend is growing. Insufficient exposure to professional skills and values during law school can extract a heavy toll on clients. Lack of practice preparation also weighs heavily on the new lawyers themselves, many of whom find themselves ill-equipped by a legal education that has left them tens of thousands, if not more than a hundred thousand, of dollars in debt. The current approach allows law schools to shirk their responsibility to prepare students for the ethical, effective practice of law. Finally, law schools’ failure to provide appropriate skills and values can cut strongly against racial and economic diversity by disparately disadvantaging insufficiently prepared new lawyers who may not have equal access to alternative training opportunities. Although the Invitation to Comment did not explicitly identify diversity in legal education as a matter of concern, we trust that the Task Force will carefully consider the impact any proposed changes would have on diversity."
"A few comments submitted to this Task Force suggest a two-year J.D. degree or otherwise reducing the required timeframe in legal education. Those who argue that legal education is inadequate, not too long, have the better position. Law graduates are not prepared for practice; they need a guaranteed minimum of professional practice experience before graduating from law school. Legal education must join the other professions described above, which all require that at least one-quarter, and up to one half, of a graduate’s pre-licensing education be in-role in supervised professional practice. The Task Force should recommend that students take at least 15 credits of courses in the second and third years of law school, one-quarter under the current structure, in clinical, supervised externship, or professional skills courses."
"In addition to requiring that at least one-quarter of a law student’s professional education be in practice-based, experiential courses, the accreditation standards should require that every graduating J.D. student take a law clinic or externship course."
"With respect to the relationship between the cost of legal education and ABA accreditation standards, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently found that "ABA accreditation requirements appear to play a minor role" in driving the cost of law school education. Indeed, as noted above, a number of schools have managed to innovate and to focus more of their curriculum on professional skills within (and despite the absence of encouragement from) the current standards and without driving costs up more than at schools that lack such innovation and focus. For example, Washington and Lee’s experience requiring 20 credits of experiential coursework in the third year has not increased their costs: 'the new curriculum is not more expensive to run than the prior third year curriculum, nor the current first or second year curricula.""