Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Illinois state bar panel recommends law schools focus more on practical skills and teaching, less on publishing and scholarship

Those are among several recommendations made by a special subcommittee of the Illinois State Bar Association that was charged with suggesting reforms in light of the current "crisis" in legal education. Other suggestions include asking Congress to limit the amount of money students can borrow to attend law school and granting law schools more leeway to try alternative models for training lawyers at less cost to students.  The report has been sent to the ABA task force presently considering legal education reforms.

From the Springfield State Journal Register:

State bar panel calls for law school reforms

The Illinois State Bar Association last year created a special committee to look at the problem, and after a series of five statewide hearings has issued a wide-ranging report that recommends significant law school reform designed to focus on educating lawyers at an affordable price.

“The current model of legal education is unsustainable,” said ISBA president John Thies, an Urbana attorney. “That’s difficult for anyone to deny.”

“When lawyers graduate with six-figure debt, it is less likely they’ll be able to practice law in the areas we need lawyers,” he said.

The committee’s final report was accepted by the ISBA board of governors last month and will be considered by the ISBA assembly in June. It also has been sent to a national task force of American Bar Association that also is considering reforms, Thies said.

. . . .

Among the recommendations in the 53-page report:

* Congress and the U.S. Department of Education should place reasonable limits on the amounts law students can borrow from the federal government.

* Congress should restrict federal loan eligibility to law schools whose graduates meet certain employment and debt-repayment outcomes, rather than allowing all accredited law schools to enroll students receiving federal student loans.

* The government should ensure that funds available in the loan programs are targeted to the students most in need.

* Law schools must have the ability to experiment with new models of legal education to find the best ways to control costs while still delivering a quality education.

* The schools themselves must place more emphasis on practice-oriented courses and focus more in the second and third years on helping students transition to practice through apprenticeships, practical courses, etc.

* Law schools should put less emphasis on scholarship and publishing among their faculty members and focus more on teaching ability. The report also urges the use of more properly trained and supervised adjunct faculty.

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