Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Many law schools have adopted innovative programs to provide their students with better educations. Legal Education in Transition: Trends and Their Implications by Sheldon Krantz and Michael A. Millemann discusses some of these programs.
This is a pivotal moment in legal education. Revisions in American Bar Association accreditation standards, approved in August 2014, impose new requirements, including practice-based requirements, on law schools. Other external regulators and critics are pushing for significant changes too. For example, the California bar licensing body is proposing to add a practice-based, experiential requirement to its licensing requirements, and the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, is giving third-year, second semester students the opportunity to practice full-time in indigent legal services programs and projects. Unbeknown to many, there have been significant recent changes in legal education that have added practice-based courses, or practice-based components to courses, in all three years of legal education. Increasingly, law schools are reaching beyond the JD to establish projects in which graduates learn while practicing law. The innovations include first-year courses in which students engage in actual legal work to help provide legal services to clients; technology clinics in which students use or build state-of-the-art technology to help pro se litigants more effectively represent themselves; diversified experiential courses, including “practicums;” and post-JD “incubator,” “fellowship,” “residency,” “apprenticeship,” and “job corps” programs in which law graduates, and sometimes law students, practice and learn from practice. It is a dynamic period in which law schools, including through comprehensive strategic planning, should regain the leadership in facing the present and future challenges. The factors contributing to change — for example, the tough job market, reduced law school applications, interventions of regulators, U.S. News & World Report rankings and increased competition among law schools — are not likely to substantially change in the near future. Law schools are in, should be in, and will be in a period that calls for sustained innovation.