TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Kuehn:  Clinical Experience For All Students: It’s Not a Question of Cost

KuehnTax Prof Blog op-ed:  A Clinical Experience For All Students: It’s Not a Question of Cost, by Robert Kuehn (Associate Dean for Clinical Education, Washington University):

Unlike the education and licensing requirements for other professions, legal education and admission to the bar in the United States lack a mandated clinical experience in law school. American Bar Association Accreditation Standard 303(b) simply requires that a school provide “substantial opportunities” for its students to participate in law clinics or field placements (what are termed “clinical” courses) where they gain lawyering experiences from advising or representing clients. Under this permissive standard, only one quarter of schools ensure that each student can graduate with clinical training; five provide no opportunities to enroll in any law clinic; one provides positions in clinical courses for only 10% of its students.

Although lawyers agree that students need the training that comes from clinical courses, many legal educators and officials question the feasibility, particularly the cost, of ensuring that every student graduates with a clinical experience. However, the experiences of a growing number of schools and ABA data demonstrate that clinical education can be provided to all J.D. students without additional costs to students.

Many schools have economically provided clinical experiences to all their students for years. The City University of New York requires that each student take a twelve-to-sixteen credit law clinic or externship, with 2015 non-resident tuition the third lowest outside Puerto Rico.  Students at the University of the District of Columbia must enroll in two seven-credit clinics but pay the lowest tuition outside Puerto Rico. When Washington and Lee revised its curriculum to require twenty experiential course credits that include at least one law clinic or externship, it doubled the number of positions available to students in clinics. The school’s later review found that its new curriculum, even with the additional law clinic positions, “is not more expensive to run than the prior third year curriculum, nor the current first or second year curricula (indeed, it is less expensive).”

As of the end of the last academic year, thirty-four additional schools required each J.D. student to successfully complete a law clinic or externship prior to graduation; another nineteen guaranteed the opportunity to take a clinic or externship if the student wished. I recently published the results of a study comparing the reported tuition of schools that mandate or guarantee a clinical experience with the tuition of the remaining ABA accredited law schools — Universal Clinical Legal Education: Necessary and Feasible. Using a regression model and controlling for public-private status, U.S. News ranking, and cost of living in the area, there is no statistically significant difference between schools with a clinical mandate and those without. Likewise, there is no statistically significant difference between the tuition charged by schools that guarantee a clinical experience and those that do not. In addition, there is no statistically significant difference in the tuition charged by the fifty-six schools that mandate or guarantee a clinical experience with the schools that do not. Substituting a discounted tuition estimate for the published tuition amount did not change the results—there were no statistically significant differences in the discount tuition charged between private schools requiring or guaranteeing a clinical experience and those that did not.

There also is no evidence that schools adopting a requirement or guarantee subsequently raise their tuition at rates higher than average. Between Washington & Lee’s adoption of its new skills and clinical experience requirement and the second year of its implementation, its tuition increased at approximately the same rate as the median increase for all private law schools, even with the school’s doubling of law clinic positions.

Similarly, the tuition patterns of the twenty-five schools that adopted a clinical requirement or guarantee between 2010 and 2014 show no evidence that these schools raised their tuition as a result of the new educational opportunities. Law schools on average raised tuition 19.7% between 2010 and 2015; schools with a new clinical experience requirement or guarantee only raised tuition an average of 16.6%.

In addition to being financially feasible to adopt, the overwhelming majority of schools could provide a clinical experience today for every student without the necessity of any additional faculty, clinic or externship, or position in existing clinical courses. Based on 2015 ABA data certified by each law school’s dean, after appropriate and thorough inquiry, as “true, accurate, complete and not misleading, 171 schools (84%) reported they had enough existing capacity in their clinical courses to provide every graduate with a law clinic or externship experience, yet only 56 (27%) required or guaranteed that training.

Again reviewing 2015 tuition, the 171 schools who report existing clinical course capacity for all graduating students charged less in tuition, on average, than schools that did not have sufficient available slots, though the difference is not statistically significant. All the data, therefore, on the relationship between clinical courses and tuition indicate that the schools that would need to create additional positions in law clinic or externship courses to provide a clinical experience to all their students need not raise tuition to provide this opportunity.

The failure to ensure that each law school graduate has clinical training can no longer be justified, if it ever could have, on the basis of cost. Instead, the failure lies with the lack of commitment by those who oversee legal education and admission to the bar to changing the status quo. So, while the failure of legal education to provide clinical training for all students can be blamed on a four-letter word, that word is not “cost” but “will”— the lack of will by deans, faculties, and legal education and bar officials to ensure all students receive this much-needed training.

For more by Bob Kuehn, see:

Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


Jason Yackee found that there's no relationship between availability of clinics and student employment outcomes. John Coates and Kathy Speyer found that large law firms rate clinics far below business law classes on importance and usefulness.

Until someone does a better empirical study showing that clinics are far more valuable to students than the doctrinal courses they could be taking instead, most people are understandably going to conclude that clinics might be good for some students, but for others they could be an expensive, unproven, fad.

Given the paucity of evidence of superior benefit, Clinics shouldn't be forced on anyone.

Law students get more realistic practical experience working over the summer and after graduation. They have their whole lives to practice law. They'll never have another chance to be students.

Posted by: Cost of Clinics | May 9, 2017 8:23:11 PM

I'm not sure that we want to hold up CUNY as a paradigm of high quality legal education. It's inexpensive, though.

Didn't Deborah Merritt find that there was no evidence that Washington & Lee's clinical curriculum revamp did anything to help student outcomes?

Even if it didn't cost more to run, totally revamping the curriculum is expensive in terms of people's time and attention. And for no payoff, not a good use of those limited resources.

Posted by: Clinic questions | May 9, 2017 8:29:37 PM

Apparently if you're running a clinic and you're a public university, you risk bringing down a world of hurt on your law school, yourself and your colleagues.

Witness UNC and others

It's a lot easier to justify a clinic if it's opt in.

Posted by: clinicians beware | May 9, 2017 8:41:34 PM

Clinical experience is fine if it means real experience. What I've seen is more in the nature of experience litigating political cases that tend to be quite similar to one another, and are supervised by people whose motivations are largely political in nature. Does this help anyone get a job? I'm not convinced.

Posted by: mike livingston | May 9, 2017 8:58:52 PM

Aren't most of them (in elite schools, at least) getting clinical training by working for law firms in the summer?

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | May 10, 2017 11:25:50 AM

@Cost of Clinics,

1) Both student employment outcomes and especially large law firm hiring are predicated on USNWR rank. I believe it was Faculty Lounge who found a .71 correlation coefficient for the former, and that large law firms (like consultancies and bulge bracket banks) hire almost solely based on prestige is the subject of entire books (i.e. Lauren Rivera's book "Pedigree").

2) Not everyone gets a chance to work in a legal setting during the summer, and at no point since 2011 have law schools managed to place even 60% of their aggregate output into FT/LT/license-required jobs within ten months of graduation, so it is patently false to say that they have their whole lives to be lawyers. They have their whole lives to attempt to join the legal profession, but realistically one year or less (see the mountains of labor economics studies on what happens to job applicants after being out of work & school for more than a year).

3) The unspoken elephant in the room is that it is hard for law professors to offer clinical and practice-based coursework because so very few of them have had any meaningful interaction with the practice of law themselves.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 10, 2017 12:30:37 PM

There is an additional good--and arguably a greater one--that comes from more law school clinics and more students participating in them. Most clinics serve populations that cannot afford or otherwise struggle to obtain legal representation. (And this isn't always "social justice" oriented either--e.g. small business development clinics.) The pro bono or "low bono" services that clinics typically provide gets needed legal representation to people who otherwise would not have it. Moreover, representing a client through a clinic gives each student both practical experience and exposure to the service imperative of our profession.

Posted by: Ben Bratman | May 11, 2017 9:31:35 AM