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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Clinical Profs Demand That ABA Require All Law Students Take 15 Credits of Experiential Courses and 1 Clinic or Externship

Page 1Clinical Legal Education Association, Comment Letter (July 1, 2013) to the ABA Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar:

The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), an association of more than 1,000 law teachers, requests that the Council of the ABA Sction of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar adopt an accreditation standard that requires every J.D. student to complete the equivalent of at least 15 semester credit hours after the first year of law school in practice-based, experiential courses, such as law clinics, field placements, or skills simulation courses, with at least one course in a law clinic or externship. ...

[T]he failure of the Standards to ensure that law graduates are capable of practicing law has led state bar admissions officials to consider imposing practice skills requirements of their own for the licensing of attorneys. For example, the State Bar of California is poised to mandate that all applicants for the California bar have completed the kind of professional training that we are proposing here.

We have analyzed the clinical education requirements for other professionals. These demonstrate that our proposal that approximately one-fourth of a law student’s upper-level credits be experiential courses is a modest requirement. Even with the adoption of this proposed standard, law school graduates would still fall behind other professions in pre-licensing professional skills education. ...

[P]ublic and private schools, schools in urban and rural areas, schools whose students primarily work after graduation in the same area and those seeking to work across the country, schools with part-time programs, and schools with significant tuition and those charging among the lowest in the country have all found ways to already meet the 15-credit proposal, including mandating that each student take a law clinic or externship. The fact that other schools have not made this effort is no reason not to move legal education forward. It is, rather, a reason to compel that effort. ...

In addition to urging the adoption of the 15-credit requirement, we also propose that the ABA amend the accreditation standards to require that each student obtain experience in a practice setting through a law clinic or externship course. ...

[T]he claim that experiential learning in practice settings is too expensive is made without empirical support. Preliminary research comparing the average tuition at schools that require or guarantee each student a law clinic or externship with tuition at schools that do not reveals that tuition is not statistically higher at the seventeen schools with a clinical mandate than at those without that requirement. That data is illustrated in Chart 1, attached to this letter. Similarly, tuition is not statistically higher at schools that guarantee a clinical experience than at schools that do not, as illustrated by Chart 2. The data suggests that the predominant determinant of tuition differences among schools is U.S. News ranking, not clinical learning.

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Wonderful! And I assume the other units at the law school will be cutting their own budgets so that the students don't have to undergo tuition hikes in order to fund this requirement!

Posted by: BoredJD | Jul 3, 2013 10:46:05 AM

Everyone is out for themselves. Clinical training makes very little sense for the vast majority of graduates from elite law schools -- most of whom go on to the corporate department of a major firm. In fact, those students don't even need classes like Civ. Pro., Constitutional Law, Property, Evidence, etc. Corporate law should really be taught in business school.

It is probably true that the best thing a lower rank school could offer their students is some practical training. But they can't give them jobs or clients, so what is the use, really. Not to mention, most of these students don't really have the aptitude to put the skills to use, or use them properly.

There will be no victory here for the clinical instructors. The ABA, like the law schools, is an inert, apathetic organization that is waiting for an uptick in legal hiring to make these concerns go away. Once they turn their attention to the problems, it will take them two years to formulate a plan, and five years to execute it.

It is interesting where the fault lines are emerging within law schools. Here is my take on the evolving adversary relationships:

increasingly underemployed/indebted recent grads v. law schools


prospective students v. law schools


tenured faculty & administration v. junior faculty


tenured faculty & administration v. clinical professors

coming soon

important tenured faculty v. unimportant tenured faculty

after that

important tenured faculty v. administration


school runs out of money and shuts doors

It is very reminiscent of the story of Easter Island from Jared Diamond's book Collapse. Just fighting and waste to this bitter end, without ever acknowledging real problems or coming up with effective solutions.

Posted by: JM | Jul 3, 2013 11:01:15 AM

I found my externship in state court to be a wholly worthless experience. The crisis in legal education is not so much about what is taught, but rather about how much the education costs and how many are being taught.

Posted by: HTA | Jul 3, 2013 1:03:27 PM