Paul L. Caron
Dean


Thursday, March 19, 2020

ABA Principles For Legal Education And Licensure In The 21st Century

ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education (members), Principles For Legal Education and Licensure in the 21st Century: Principles and Commentary:

ABA Principles1.  The imperative For A Movement Of Change
1.1  The Accelerating Crisis
An Accelerating Crisis The world is transforming at an accelerating pace. The practice of law in the United States is also transforming, albeit more slowly than the world and markets in which it operates. Technology, globalization, and mobility are core enablers of these shifts, and the legal profession and the delivery of legal services are not immune from their inevitable impacts. The rule of law and our institutions are more important than ever for our democratic society, a functioning economy, and individual rights. However, access to legal services and justice is onerous and expensive. In almost every legal arena in the United States, most people and organizations cannot afford competent and cost-effective legal services. Failure to acknowledge and aggressively respond to these challenges threatens America’s competitiveness and democratic institutions. Our established system of legal education and licensure is preparing the next generation of legal professionals for yesterday rather than for tomorrow. It is preparing them for a world that will not exist sooner than we might like to imagine. There are important and meaningful exceptions to this assessment. Those exceptions typically come from the hard work of institutional and individual innovators. They are not a result of systemic change or of how our system of education and licensure is designed. As stewards of the legal system, all lawyers are responsible for responding to these challenges. One of our most important collective duties is to develop the next generation of legal professionals ready to lead, support, and serve society as a whole and all who need legal services. We must prepare these professionals to serve society and clients in the decades to come. We must also attend to the well-being of those who provide legal services. How we attract, prepare, and support our future stewards matters.

1.2  A Design Problem
The American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Education found a growing disjunction between what kind of legal services are needed and the ways in which we currently prepare and license lawyers. Rather than continuing predominantly to protect the status quo, the profession must better manage for both stability and change. We must have a defensible rationale for what we retain in our current education and licensure model. We must also be prepared to lead radical and systemic change if we are committed to the future of access and service, and the rule of law.

Our profession cannot serve clients effectively unless our education and licensure system acknowledges the sweeping changes wrought by technology, globalization, and mobility. Similarly, we cannot improve access to justice without significant changes in how we educate and license the next generation of legal professionals.

We have a design problem. A design problem that will not be solved without principled reform.

We have not lacked good ideas for aligning legal education and licensure with service models that would better serve society. Indeed, many in and associated with the profession have done excellent and creative work in recent years and decades. Instead, our gridlock stems from substantive and systemic obstacles.

Through its work the Commission considered, among other trends and factors, the following systemic obstacles. It is the opinion of the Commission that that we will not progress with much-needed change in legal education and licensure as long as these obstacles remain in place.

ABA Chart

1.3  An Obligation to Drive Change
We must acknowledge this crisis and accept our obligation to lead a movement for meaningful, aligned, and accelerated change. Members of the bar take an oath to protect the rule of law, support access to justice, and serve clients with integrity. Yet, paradoxically, as a group we undermine these goals by failing to lead for the future in how we educate and license the next generation. It is indefensible to make no reasonable collective effort to better serve future generations.

1.4  An Incentive to Embrace Change
Proactively embracing change serves institutional interests. If we do not show collective leadership now, we may forfeit the chance to control, or even influence, the future of legal education and licensure. We may also lose the opportunity to serve a broader, enormous, and untapped market; a market configured differently and unconstrained by our current assumptions about legal education and a lifelong general license.

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