Thursday, August 1, 2013

ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education: Working Paper

The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education has issued a Working Paper in anticipation of its next public hearing at the ABA meeting in San Francisco on August 10.  I agree with much of the paper, although I do have a few criticisms.


1.  "Law school education is funded through a complex system of tuition, discounting, and loans. Schools announce standard tuition rates, and then chase students with high LSAT scores by offering substantial discounts without much regard to financial need. Other students receive little if any benefit from discounting and must rely mainly on borrowing to finance their education. The net result is that students whose credentials (and likely job prospects) are the weakest incur large debt to sustain the school budget and enable higher-credentialed students to attend at little cost. These practices drive up both tuition and debt, and they are in need of serious re-engineering."

Comment: This practice has bothered me for a long time because it is unfair to the students who are least able to afford law school.  I believe that law schools should end the practice of funding merit scholarships by raising tuition for other students.

2a. "We conclude that the section would serve the public interest by enabling more heterogeneity among law schools. The Task Force recommends that a number of the Standards be dramatically revised or repealed."

2b. "The ABA’s accreditation system should facilitate substantial innovations in law school programs better than it does today."

Comment: The homogenteity created by the current standards discourages experimentation with cost-cutting measures and new approaches to the delivery of instruction.

3.  "The profession’s calls for more attention to skills training and experiential learning have been well-taken, and law schools have done much to expand such opportunities for students. There is need to do more. The balance between doctrinal instruction and hands–on training needs to shift still further toward the core competencies needed by people who will deliver legal services to clients."

Comment: Law schools should be turning out practioners, not academics.  As I have demonstrated over the past few years, law schools need to significantly change how they deliver legal instruction.

4.  "State supreme courts, state bar associations, and admitting authorities should devise additional frameworks for licensing providers of legal services, such as licensing limited practitioners or authorizing bar admission for people whose preparation is not in the traditional three-year classroom mold."

Comment: While I recognize that many segments of our society have unmet legal needs, I think that admitting authorities should be very careful concerning who can provide legal services.  Getting bad advice is worse than getting no advice.  I also believe that legal education should remain three years.  Many of the students that law schools are turning out after three years are unprepared to help clients.  If the current third year of law school is ineffectual, law schools should change it by adopting the insights of general education research.

We will have more to say about the specifics of this Working Paper between now and August 10.

(Scott Fruehwald)

Update: Mary Lynch has posted an excellent analysis of the Working Paper on The Best Practices for Legal Education Blog

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