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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Illinois Bar Calls For Law School Reform

IllinoisThe Illinois State Bar Association Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services has issued a 55-page Final Report & Recommendations.  Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State) provides a helpful summary of ten of the committee's recommendations:

1. The federal government should cap loans available to law students.

2. The government should also impose outcome-based requirements for schools to maintain loan eligibility. A school, for example, would lose its loan eligibility if more than 35% of its graduates failed to reduce their loan principal by at least $1 during a given period.

3. Congress should make private educational loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, using the pre-2005 definition of “financial hardship.”

4. The ABA should modify accreditation standards to expand the credits that students may earn through distance education.

5. The ABA should require schools to gather and report more information about job outcomes, including outcomes over the course of their graduates’ legal careers. The latter requirement would not involve tracking all graduates, but could rely upon sampling.

6. Law schools should focus on practice-oriented courses and teach fewer “exotic” courses. They should also teach law office management.

7. Law schools should include judges and practitioners on faculty hiring and tenure committees. “Practicing judges and lawyers,” the Report suggests, “can provide unique insight into the candidate’s skills as a practitioner and will ensure that the law school hires faculty who are best able to educate law students for practice.”

8. State supreme courts should find ways to reduce the cost of gaining bar admission. Courts should consider allowing third-year law students to take the bar exam, as Arizona has done. They should also consider Wisconsin’s model of granting a “diploma privilege” to graduates of in-state schools who obtain a specified GPA and complete designated courses.

9. Bar Association members should assist pre-law advisers in giving debt and career counseling to students interested in attending law school.

10. Bar Associations should also work with law schools to develop apprenticeship programs that could start during the third year of law school.

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Comments

"Law schools should teach . . . fewer "exotic" courses. This has been the cry of anti-intellectuals from time immemorial. For example, in law school I took what were then considered "exotic" subjects like international law, American legal history (with a strong emphasis on race and racism), and a student-created seminar on law and social justice. Obviously, these courses were a waste of time, and it would have been much better if I had learned (say) how to file documents or what color cover went on an appellate brief. This is another example of essentially mediocre people attempting to take advantage of the "crisis" in legal education to advance the same agenda they would have had anyway.

Posted by: michael livingston | Mar 15, 2013 1:23:05 AM

What matters is not whether law schools teach "exotic" courses. I assume they always will (and I wish I could have taken that "bloodfeuds in Iceland" course). What matters is whether the schools provide the students more of what the students ask for -- particularly in the schools where employment outcomes are worse. If the students ask for more exotic offerings, let's make sure we're offering those courses. But if the students can't get into the practical courses they want, then let's add the exotic offerings only after we've satisfied the students' basic needs.

While all that is going on, the professors can still write about, speak about and hold conferences on whatever topics suit their academic and scholarly interests.

Posted by: John Steele | Mar 15, 2013 7:34:36 AM

The whole educational model seems to be coming apart faster than it can be fixed. I doubt these proposals will take effect soon enough, or bite deeply enough, to change that. The bigger changes will come from market forces as schools shrink, lay off legions of employees, or go bankrupt. Those market forces are in turn being driven by the changes in the law industry, which is being hit by automation in a big way. All those young associates billing out big hours to mark up documents or read files? Going away. The Big Law phenomenon was so lucrative and went on so long (relative to any observer's span of attention) that we thought it was "how things worked." It wasn't.

Posted by: Owen Hughes | Mar 15, 2013 8:03:43 AM

I've got another one:

11. There should be no maximum income limit to the student loan interest payment deduction.

If the gov is forcing out money through the student loan fire-hose and student loan debt and forebearance/default on repayment is at an all-time high, why should those whom are paying back every cent be penalized for making money and contributing to the economy? Shouldn't working three jobs to maximize income and pay off debt owed be prioritized? I am not even talking about an above-the line exclusion (which, given current circumstances, would make more sense), just stop phasing out the deduction based upon income. The deduction phases itself out over time anyways as the amortization begins to kick in and the person starts paying more and more principal and less and less interest.

Posted by: Smack | Mar 15, 2013 8:53:21 AM

I used to laugh at the courses offered at my law school that were called "[Blank] and the law." The ones I can recall were race, gender, sexual orientation, and I think there were at least two more than I cannot recall exactly right now. My other favorite was "The Law of Indigenous Peoples." Luckily for me I was working for a law firm during my second year, so I was learning how the actual practice works from them instead of actually depending on my law school to teach it to me.

Law school can be reformed easily, but it will never happen because too many cushy jobs would be gone. Make it a 4-year college major and a 1-year master's type program.

Posted by: Brian G. | Mar 15, 2013 9:13:29 AM

Mr. Livingston,

You have completely mischaracterized legal education reform. Legal education reform is not about "how to file documents or what color cover went on an appellate brief." Rather, it is about learning and understanding doctrine (just like law schools have always taught) and then learning how to apply that doctrine to facts. In other words, in addition to learning and understanding doctrine, it is about using that doctrine. Consequently, it is more complex learning than law schools have traditionally used.

Also, it is not anti-intellectual. It is about learning and understanding what lawyers do. When anthropologists study primitive tribes, are they being anti-intellectual? When musicologists study what composers do, are they being anti-intellectual? When scholars study what philosophers do, are they being anti-intellectual?

Law schools also need to consider what their students will be doing in practice. What is better for a future civil rights practitioner, taking critical race studies or taking a course in antidiscrimination law that teaches the students how to litigate a discrimination case? What is better for a lawyer that will represent families, learning what Plato thought about law or learning how the modern American legal system works?

Finally, the Report calls for fewer exotic courses; it does not call for the total elimination of jurisprudential courses. Under legal education reform, there is still a place for seminars and for courses that include philosophic discussions.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Mar 15, 2013 9:59:10 AM