Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

As ABA Inches Closer To Approving Paid Externships, George Mason 3L Urges ABA To Prioritize Financial Interests Of Law Students Over Clinical Law Profs

ABA Logo 2Following up on my previous posts (links below):  ABA Journal, Proposal to Eliminate Ban on Academic Credit for Paid Externships Moves Forward:

The governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has approved for notice and comment a proposed change in the law school accreditation standards that would eliminate the current ban on students receiving academic credit for paid externships.

The council, which met Friday in Atlanta, also approved for notice and comment a proposal that would forbid law schools from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, as well as several proposed changes in the wording of the diversity and inclusion requirements. One proposed change offers possible actions a school might take to reflect a commitment to an environment that is diverse and inclusive.

My Pepperdine colleague Rob Anderson previously called on law students to speak up for paid externships:

[A] small but organized minority of law professors don't want you to be able to be paid for work and receive academic credit at the same time, and they are the ones being heard by the ABA. The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) and the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), which are special interest groups that advocate for the interests of law school professors, are lobbying the ABA to try to stop it from allowing you to receive pay and credit for the same externship. ...

Why would some of your professors want to do this? Because they want shunt all law students into their in-house clinics and governmental and other non-profit externships over which they have more control, rather than more practical law firm jobs that deal with regular law practice. Many clinical professors preside over significant fiefdoms within law schools, often using students' tuition money to favor their own ideological goals. Law school clinics are among the most expensive education law schools provide on a per-student basis, and that expense is all too often paid with students' tuition dollars. In addition, these clinics and unpaid externships tend to focus on issues of interest to the clinical professors, rather than on the skills that students will need in their careers to serve paying clients. ...

George Mason law student Thomas Wheatley has followed Rob's advice and written an op-ed in this week's National Law Journal asking the ABA to Lift the Ban on Academic Credit For Paid Legal Work:

The ABA offers two reasons for having the ban: First, that compensation compromises the academic integrity of a work experience, and second, that opposition to lifting the ban is "virtually universal" among externship and clinical educators.

[T]he ABA's reasoning is at best intellectually deficient and at worst jarringly dishonest. ... [B]y concurring with the arguments offered by SALT and CLEA, the ABA insists on propagating a haughty narrative that only hurts law students in the end.

First and foremost, there is no empirical basis for concluding that compensation undermines academic integrity. ...

Second, SALT's condescending view of the "economic value to the firm" misses the mark entirely. Exposure to workplace economics, or how the scarcity of resources affects an employer's decision-making, requires quantitative reasoning, an in-demand skill best developed outside the confines of academia. ... Hypocritically, what SALT, CLEA and the ABA will not admit is that Interpretation 305-2 serves — at the expense of the student — the economic interests of SALT and CLEA.

Even though the value of unpaid work falls short of the value of paid work, Interpretation 305-2 provides a perverse incentive for students to borrow thousands of more dollars just to work in unpaid positions. This fake incentive is sustainable only because students shoulder the difference in value between the paid experience and the unpaid experience through increased debt. What results is a regulatory inflation of the value of unpaid work that deceives unsuspecting students into believing they are being fairly compensated.

Stripped of its proponents' self-righteous validations, Interpretation 305-2 serves only one purpose: to provide organizations like SALT and CLEA a monopoly on cheap labor. No wonder opposition to lifting the ban is "virtually universal" among externship and clinical educators.

Yes, repealing Interpretation 305-2 may expose students to the realities of corporate economics. But keeping the ban in place in order to serve the needs of clinicians and academics is an outrage. According to statistics published by the National Association of Legal Professionals, paid work has the potential to cut the average public law student's debt in half — the functional equivalent of attending law school when average public law school tuition was less than a third of what it is today (circa 2000). The ABA's willful disregard of this reality is not only irresponsible; it's an affront to students, employers, and the legal profession as a whole.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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Rent-seeking by clinics and faculty? I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Posted by: Dan | Dec 9, 2015 12:58:26 AM