Paul L. Caron

Monday, October 12, 2020

Despite The Hype, Law School Clinics Stagnate

Following up on my previous post, 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education:  Karen Sloan (, Clinics Stagnate:

CSALELaw schools loves to tout their clinics and externships, and promote all the experiential learning opportunities they extend to students. That’s partly in response to pressure within the legal academy to give students more “hands-on learning” (think about the American Bar Association's 2014 requirement that students complete at least six credits of clinics, externships, or simulation-based classes) and partly due to the perception that today’s students want those kinds of opportunities. But it can be hard to cut through the hype and understand what’s really happening with clinics and externships in the big picture, which is why I was happy to see that the Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education has rolled out its 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education. ...

[M]y overall takeaway is that there hasn’t been significant growth in the number of clinics and externships offered, and the percentage of students enrolling in them. In general, those categories ticked up slightly or stayed on par with 2016, but given all the attention on “real world” learning, I would have expected to see more. (The results are based on responses from 185 law schools, so nearly all ABA-accredited schools participated.)

I wondered if I was perhaps misreading the results, so I hopped on the phone with Robert Kuehn, law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and one of the authors of the CSCALE report. He agreed that the numbers show that clinic and externship opportunities didn’t dramatically expand after the ABA added its six-credit experiential learning requirement—perhaps a sign that it should have made the requirement 15 credits, as some in the clinical community advocated for. ...

Here are a few of the key findings from the CSCALE survey:

  • Respondent schools reported a total of 1,521 clinics. The median number of clinics per law school was seven—the same figure from the 2016 and 2013 surveys. All but six schools offer at least one clinic.
  • Schools reported that the median participation rate among students in both clinics and externships was 50%, which is essentially flat from the 2016 survey. Altogether, the median participation rate for either a clinic or externship was 85%--up from 80% in 2016. ...
  • The survey responses show that schools are more often relying on non-tenured and tenure-track faculty to teach clinical courses. ...

As Kuehn noted to me, adding clinics is perhaps one of the most expensive decisions law schools can make, given they require the hiring of faculty and they are relatively small. (The median clinic size reported to CSCALE was eight students.)

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


"There's no reason the ABA should be requiring clinics. "

Given that a few years ago the overseer of accreditation agencies, NACIQI, recommended to the Department of Education that the ABA lose its accreditation powers for being so utterly lazy, ineffectual, and out of date as an accreditor, there is actually a reason for the ABA to require things that legal employers want instead of rubber stamp the same old 19th century Langdellian education that was past its sell-by date decades ago.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 14, 2020 7:18:28 AM

There was never a demand for "practice ready" curriculum. This was a contrivance of law school administrators who needed to promote some sort of change, and did not want to lower the price.

There is no reason to pay for clinical faculty, beyond a couple significant clinics. Students can get experience and EARN money by working with a real law firm. We hired our summer from a T20 law school to continue on one day a week through the school year. I guarantee the education is much better than a school clinic, and he gets paid more than nominal wages.

Posted by: JM | Oct 13, 2020 7:19:09 AM

On the other hand, with all but the T-14 law schools being laser-focused on their US News rankings, why would they spend money on activities that only promote teaching and hands-on student experience?

Posted by: Tom Sharbaugh | Oct 13, 2020 4:30:31 AM

There's no reason the ABA should be requiring clinics. If employers actually think clinics are more valuable than doctrinal classes, they can hire students at lower ranked schools or with lower GPAs who take more clinics, thereby signaling their importance.

If employers aren't willing to hire more based on clinic work, and students don't want to take more of these classes, then why is it the job of the ABA or law schools to try to shove these classes down the throats of people who apparently don't see much benefit to them?

Posted by: Forcing clinics | Oct 12, 2020 3:58:13 PM

Yes, as Professor Robert Kuehn explains, “adding clinics is perhaps one of the most expensive decisions law schools can make, given they require the hiring of faculty and they are relatively small. Indeed, as the article notes,”the median clinic size reported to CSCALE was eight students.

But it doesn’t have to be that way at all.

For more than 40 years, students in my law school class in Legal Activism have been getting real clinical experience - e.g., drafting and filing their own real legal documents in their own names, arguing their own cases before real courts and regulatory agencies, and winning real legal victories, etc. - without the need for the close supervision (and therefore limited student-to-faculty ratios and huge costs) of traditional law school clinics.

Indeed, my brand of experiential law may well have come before conventional clinics. See, e.g.

NEW YORK TIMES - The Law Professor Behind ASH, SOUP, PUMP, and CRASH

WATCH - Why and How Legal Activists “Sue The Bastards”

To see how you and your law school can do the same thing at no additional cost, check out:

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Oct 12, 2020 1:41:07 PM