Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Tacha: Why I Support California's Proposed 15 Credit Skills Requirement

Tacha (2015)In response to yesterday's post, Law School Deans As Conformists:  my non-conformist Dean, Deanell Tacha, has given me permission to post her June 22, 2015 letter requesting that the AALS Steering Committee reconsider its opposition to California's proposed 15 credit skills requirement:

I am so grateful for your leadership and work on behalf of the Association of American Law Schools.   These are such challenging times in legal education.  As those entrusted with guiding law schools through this period, we deans must all bring the full measure of our energy, insights, and experience to this important work.  It is in this spirit that I write to urge you to reconsider your decision to issue a statement in opposition to the TFARR recommendations promulgated under the auspices of the California State Bar and now pending in the California Supreme Court.

I returned to legal education nearly five years ago after twenty-five years on the federal court of appeals.  As I have throughout my career, I immediately immersed myself in working closely with the California bench, bar, and other law schools because I believe so strongly that we must all work together to strengthen continually the legal profession and promote relentlessly the rule of law in all its manifestations.  As I became involved in California, I was dismayed and disheartened by what I perceived as the disconnect between legal education and the rest of the profession.

I was a member of both the original TFARR Task Force and the resulting implementation working group for the recommendations.  I found that members of the bench and bar were not aware of the many developments and changes in legal education in recent years and tended to see law schools through the prism of their own experience.  The law school representatives (including me) were taken aback by some of the harsh criticism of new lawyers and law school preparation.  Law school deans and faculty members were, with some notable exceptions, largely absent from the ongoing work of the bench and the bar.  Although law school faculty participate in presentations and CLE events, I observed a paucity of meaningful interaction in the business of administration of justice between law schools and the practicing profession--in large measure simply because of this lack of mutual involvement with each other.  TFARR changed all that in California.

Though it is fair to say that all involved in the TFARR deliberations will readily admit that the recommendations may not be perfect, the process reconnected the law schools with the profession in California.  In both the original task force and in the implementation phase lawyers, judges, faculty members, and deans have been deeply involved together in crafting recommendations that most of us believe will strengthen all of us.  We learned from each other.  We grew to understand and respect each other's viewpoints and concerns.  Perhaps most important, the process was a journey in which we all were forced to look with honesty and clarity at the challenges confronting legal education, the legal profession, access to justice, and the very rule of law itself.

Much work has been done in California to bind the legal profession together in a sense of common purpose.  The practicing profession has a much better understanding of the current reality in legal education.  Law schools have done excellent work in responding to the work of TFARR.  Most of the law schools in California (if not all) appear poised to prepare their students with these requirements in mind.

Reference is made in some of the AALS correspondence to the dangers of balkanization of state bar requirements.  To me, the far greater danger is balkanization of the various components of a healthy legal profession where legal education and the practicing bench and bar have a flourishing respect for each other and work together in common cause to assure a high quality legal profession poised to move into a changing and challenging future.  Quite simply, we are all interdependent, and law schools have a duty to listen to the profession--no matter how dislocating and uncomfortable it may be--and respond with integrity and a tone of mutual respect.

The TFARR process in California has resulted in significant ways in bringing the profession and law schools together.  Whether any of the recommendations is adopted remains to be seen, but I can say with some confidence that the process itself has strengthened relationships within the profession.  Mutual respect and understanding characterized the process.  Most important, the TFARR work, in my judgment,  served the people of California by highlighting so many of the challenges that lie ahead in delivering high quality, affordable legal services in this state and in providing the rigorous grounding for new lawyers that will equip them for the intellectual and practical issues they will confront in a changing legal landscape.  TFARR has helped focus the profession on the need to work together to serve the noble ends of justice to which we are all committed.

My worry is that a letter from the AALS Steering Committee, though clearly well-intentioned, may simply be viewed as one more example of the law schools' unwillingness to come to the table with our practicing colleagues to address issues of mutual concern.  Indeed, early in the TFARR process, a few critical communications from law school administrators were met with exactly this response and dismissed summarily.  The many national reports and multitude of commentaries criticizing legal education are, in part, a result of this perceived failure of legal education in not "coming to the table" for meaningful dialogue with the rest of the legal profession.  The TFARR proposals derive from concerted, cooperative, and consultative collaboration in California.

Resistance to the TFARR proposals by an external group of national leaders in legal education could have the unfortunate effect of perpetuating the unfair, but persistent, stereotype that the law schools are not listening and not willing to join the rest of the legal profession in addressing our mutual challenges.  Legal education can ill afford not to have the partnership of our colleagues in the bench and bar.  We need these allies more than ever at this time.  I despair when I hear lawyers themselves urging their children not to go to law school.  We must find every way we can to reconnect with those who are disenchanted with legal education.

I understand and respect the views of the Steering Committee, but urge you to reconsider the wisdom of issuing the proposed statement.  We must be viewed as part of the solution not part of the problem.  To the extent that our spokespersons, with good will and worthy goals, appear not to be listening to the profession, we do not serve the long-term good of the legal profession and the quality of the lawyers that we educate.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to comment.

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