Tuesday, January 10, 2023
I attended the Annual Meeting of AALS (Association of American Law Schools) last week. Communing with ASP colleagues always leaves me energized and armed with new ideas for the next semester. A few thoughts below the fold:
First, never in my 18 years attending AALS have I heard the phrases "academic support" or "bar support" so many times. Deans, associate deans, and faculty asked nuanced questions and demonstrated a genuine interest in methods that could improve student outcomes. In my experience, these discussions occurred less frequently in the past, and this change suggests that the legal academy is pivoting towards a different prioritization of student success relative to other institutional ventures.
Also, I was proud to see so many folks from the ASP community on various panels, and I was in awe of their fine presentations. Not only were our colleagues universally excellent, but they each ended up facing a line of those same deans, associate deans, and faculty members seeking advice. In the past, our voices were not as valued as they should have been, but I was thrilled to see strong evidence of change. Sincere thanks and congrats to all who presented.
Law schools' reactions to the NextGen bar exam are mixed. It is apparent that some schools are focusing significant attention on this looming event while others are blissfully unaware of it. I was heartened by what Dean Andy Perlman of Suffolk Law had to say, namely that every corner of each law school must participate in facing the upcoming challenges. But I was disappointed to learn that another dean expressed elsewhere his position that the NextGen change will not impact doctrinal faculty in the least and will be put solely on the shoulders of those in the ASP field. I question whether that position is a viable one, and I found myself wondering if the dean would express that same sentiment in front of students or alums.
On a similar note, it struck me that one particular issue is absent from discussions about NextGen. While legal educators are (generally) in agreement that the bar exam should change, I suspect that practitioners (generally) are less sanguine. It seems likely that there will be at least some pushback on the idea that the bar exam should not be a rite of passage, a tool of economic protectionism, and an arbitrary obstacle to the practice of law. While the NCBE and others have wisely sought input from practitioners, legal educators should be considering strategies to push back on this pushback.
Lastly, and most importantly, several audience members asked for details on how racial and gender equity was being "baked into the test," as one person put it. Many of us found the answers troublesome in that they seemed to kick the can down the road and oversimplify a complex issue. We would do well to ensure that this issue remains at the forefront of our priorities.
Louis Schulze (FIU Law)