Paul L. Caron

Friday, September 20, 2013

ABA Task Force Issues Draft Report on Reforming Legal Education

ABA Logo 2ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, Draft Report and Recommendations (Sept. 20, 2013):

The American legal profession, the nation’s law schools, the American Bar Association, the states’ Supreme Courts, and others have collaborated over several generations to create a system of legal education widely admired around the world. The system is decentralized, involves both private and public actors, and is grounded in the J.D. programs of ABA-approved law schools. At present, the system faces considerable pressure because of the price many students pay, the large amounts of student debt, consecutive years of sharply falling applications, and dramatic changes, possibly structural, in the jobs available to law graduates. These have resulted in real economic stresses on law schools, damage to career and economic prospects of many recent graduates, and diminished public confidence in the system of legal education. The predicament of so many students and recent graduates who may never procure the sort of employment they anticipated when they enrolled in their law schools has been particularly compelling.

The Task Force on the Future of Legal Education has been charged to examine current problems and conditions in American legal education and present recommendations that are workable and have a reasonable chance of broad acceptance. This draft Report and Recommendations constitutes the conclusions of the Task Force about the problems and their potential solutions. ...

The Task Force faced three substantial challenges in carrying out its work. First, this document had to be prepared and submitted quickly. ... Second, while there are many current problems relating to legal education, the most important include ones not susceptible to any quick fix. ... Third, the Task Force had to develop a framework for presenting its findings and recommendations to ensure a reasonable chance of influencing action. This called for balancing competing goals: of articulating hard truths while building wide endorsement of them; of proposing clear, and not always popular, courses of action for various participants in the legal education system while still respecting those actors’ autonomy and judgment; and of offering narrow recommendations that could be implemented immediately while laying the foundation for more comprehensive, long-term improvements.

The Task Force has resolved these challenges by structuring the draft Report and Recommendations as a field manual for people of good faith who wish to improve legal education as a public and private good. It is designed to guide the activities of these participants within the scope of their respective responsibilities and areas of influence. The heart of the field manual is Section VII, which is addressed to all parties in our system of legal education. Key themes detailed in Section VII include: the need for a systematic (rather than tactical) approach to the deficiencies of law school financing and pricing; greater heterogeneity in law schools and in programs of legal education; an increased focus on the delivery of value by law schools; a focus on the development of competencies in graduates of legal education programs; the profound importance of cultural change, particularly on the part of law faculties; the need for changes in the regulation of legal services to support key changes in legal education; and the need for institutionalization of the process of assessment and improvement in legal education, commenced in this Report and Recommendations.

Section VIII contains recommendations for specific actions by various participants in the legal education system to implement the key themes.

Other sections of the Report contain analyses that provide context for the recommendations of Sections VII and VIII, and a set of tools that persons, groups, and organizations can use in initiatives designed to bring about improvement.

The Task Force believes that if the participants in legal education continue to act in good faith on the recommendations presented here, with an appreciation of the urgency of coordinated change, significant benefits for students, society, and the system of legal education can be brought about quickly, and a foundation can be established for continuous adaptation and improvement. ...

VIII. SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS.  The Task Force not only offers the general themes discussed above; it also makes specific recommendations to particular actors or groups in the system of legal education. These recommendations are not intended to be exclusive.

The Task Force’s specific recommendations are as follows.

A.  American Bar Association ...
B.  Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar ...
C.  State Supreme Courts, State Bars, and Regulators of Lawyers and Law Practice ...

D.  Universities and Other Institutions of Higher Education
Universities and other institutions of higher education should undertake the following:

  1. Develop Educational Programs to Train Persons, other than Prospective Lawyers, to Provide Limited Legal Services. Such Programs May, but Need Not, Be Delivered through Law Schools that are Parts of Universities.

E.  Law Schools
Each law school should undertake the following:

  1. Develop and Implement a Plan for Reducing the Cost and Limiting Increases in the Cost of Delivering the J.D. Education, and Continually Assess and Improve The Plan.
  2. Develop and Implement a Plan to Manage the Investment of Law School Resources in Faculty Scholarly Activity, and Continually Assess Success in Accomplishing the Goals in the Plan.
  3. Develop a Clear Statement of the Value the Law School’s Program of Education and other Services Will Provide, Including Relation to Employment Opportunities, and Communicate that Statement to Students and Prospective Students.
  4. Adopt, as an Institution-Wide Responsibility, Promoting Career Success of Graduates and Develop Plans for Meeting that Responsibility.
  5. Develop Comprehensive Programs of Financial Counseling for Law Students, and Continually Assess the Effectiveness of Such Programs.

F.  Law Faculty Members
Law school faculty members should undertake the following:

  1. Become Informed About the Subjects Addressed in This Report and Recommendations, in Order to Play an Effective Role in the Improvement of Legal Education at the Faculty Member’s School.
  2. Individually and as Part of a Faculty, Reduce the Role Given to Status as a Measure of Personal and Institutional Success.
  3. Support the Law School in Implementing the Recommendations in Subsection E.

SEPARATE STATEMENT BY NANCY ROGERS [Ohio State]. ... I write separately to seek public comments on a different approach to several of the problems that the draft report identifies. ... I agree with the draft report’s compliments to law faculty for their creative approaches in response to the new economic situation and see no need for the recommendations in VIII.F.

Legal Education | Permalink


As usual for the ABA, far, far too little, far, far too late.

Posted by: Jobs | Sep 23, 2013 7:07:45 AM

It is time for the ABA to get out of the Accreditation Business. Oligopolies, Protectionism and Elitism never stand up to Free Markets. As long as the ABA is involved these problems can't be solved.

Posted by: John | Sep 21, 2013 3:15:42 AM

The ABA clearly does not grasp either the magnitude of this problem, or the speed at which it will hit law schools. If it did, it would have issues a Surgeon General style warning to law schools that if they do not reduce their tuition by approximately 50%, they will not exist in 5 years.

Posted by: JM | Sep 20, 2013 1:52:15 PM