ABA Panel Struggles for Answers on Law School Reform

, The National Law Journal

   | 8 Comments

The lack of consensus about what ails law schools and how to fix them was on display Wednesday during a daylong conference hosted by the American Bar Association's Task Force on the Future of Education.

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What's being said

  • PaLawyer

    How about dramatically lower tuition at public law schools? Allow middle class kids to go to law school and still afford to represent middle class clients? In other words, help the public that supports their schools?

  • Todd L.

    There is a real problem with access to legal services in this country. While there are theoretically too many lawyers, there are far too many people going without legal services, or being nearly bankrupted by the system because of high fees. Family law is a prime example where there are far too many pro se divorces with disasterous outcomes for families. I am not sure that legal technicians are going to fill that bill. Somehow, we need to encourage lawyers to open practices that provide cost effective legal services to the public. On a different note, we do need a Federal Bar with open practice rights in all states.

  • not available

    The need for a Federal Bar with open practice rights in all States, and an independent law school evaluation process has arrived. Critical services in the U.S. from communications to securities are regulated by the Federal Government. Equal justice for all, including opportunities to practice law are at the center of recent controversies, and the ABA is the wrong organization in the wrong place at the wrong time. State Supreme Courts retain oversight of State Bar Association admission practices. Decades ago the ABA garnered from most State high courts a pledge to only admit graduates of ABA approved law schools. Two difficult problems were the result. If you run a law school, your graduates cannot practice unless the school has been ABA approved. (There is no accreditation) 30% of the ABA school graduates annually cannot pass a bar exam. (Even after expensive bar review courses) The evident collusion of State Courts and the ABA in restricting entry to bar licensing and Federal Court practice presents both Constitutional and antitrust class action issues. Using the NCBE testing services, headquartered in Wisconsin where ironically no bar exam is required, as a third party neutral organization to limit entry to the legal profession in the States conveniently obscures the direct consequences of the ABA as an association of lawyers controlling both State entry, access to the Federal Bar, and the curriculum at law schools. Few if any law school Deans would invite or tolerate scholarly criticism of legal practice and judicial system problems, and risk loss of Approval. Open scholarly inquiry remains the cornerstone of judicial system transparency. American Higher Education and our Judicial System belong to the people of the United States, not the American Bar Association. One might recall the Romans bleeding Jerusalem to the point of collapse, but not demise.

  • not available

    The need for a Federal Bar with open practice rights in all States, and an independent law school evaluation process has arrived. Critical services in the U.S. from communications to securities are regulated by the Federal Government. Equal justice for all, including opportunities to practice law are at the center of recent controversies, and the ABA is the wrong organization in the wrong place at the wrong time. State Supreme Courts retain oversight of State Bar Association admission practices. Decades ago the ABA garnered from most State high courts a pledge to only admit graduates of ABA “approved” law schools. Two difficult problems were the result. If you run a law school, your graduates cannot practice unless the school has been “ABA approved”. It isn’t likely many law schools would allow scholarly criticism of legal practice and judicial system problems, and risk loss of “Approval”. Yet somehow 30% of the ABA school graduates annually cannot pass a bar exam. The evident collusion of State Courts and the ABA in restricting entry to bar licensing and Federal Court practice presents both Constitutional and antitrust class action issues. Using the NCBE testing services, headquartered in Wisconsin where no bar exam is required, as a third party “neutral” organization to limit entry to the legal profession in the States obscures the direct consequences of the ABA as an association of lawyers controlling both State entry, access to the Federal Bar, and the curriculum at law schools. American Higher Education and our Judicial System belong to the people of the United States, not the American Bar Association. One might recall the Romans bleeding Jerusalem to the point of collapse, but not demise.

  • BCReed

    After having reviewed much of the meeting I don't foresee the US legal regulators being able to right the ship. The US legal industry is a bit like the titanic right now and the recession was its grand iceberg. Few will likely survive and thrive, not because the ship was low quality but because it has encountered an iceberg that broke it in its most vulnerable areas. Great Companies and Professions can fail, it has happened quite frequently throughout recorded history. Because of the prevalent psychological tendencies of US lawyers to be skeptical, risk averse, defensive, and dismissive of other professionals I foresee a lack of meaningful consensus arising out of this task force and the ABA, thus law school will not be able to change in the manner required and many will likely fail. There will be some that become more lean and others that cannot be economically justified to remain open, thus the universities will shut them down. The universities are also facing challenges in enrollment into Bachelors and Graduate Programs, so believing that they can somehow keep the law schools afloat would be overly optimistic.

    Because there will still be demand for legal services and lawyers I believe private online legal educators will arise. They will be open to those who want to receive legal training but not necessarily for a degree. Business owners and executives may just want it to aid their businesses and reduce legal spend. Individuals will want training so they can handle more of their legal issues that arise. Those law schools that do survive will be much less expensive by necessity, not preference. They will gear their graduates towards small firm and solo practice, rather than biglaw. Although Richard Susskind gives many predictions about the future, i think he is overly optimistic, in large part due to him being a lawyer. I am sure Kodak employees and managers never thought the company could actually go bankrupt until it was right upon them. The US legal industry is facing the early stages of this trend and will shrink or disappear by necessity.

  • OldBoaltie

    1. What drives many public law schools is the low cost -- essentially, profits. Probably it's necessary to substitute noneconomic barriers to entry to stem oversupply.
    2. The first two mandatory courses that should be added to the curriculum:
    a. Rainmaking aka business development;
    b. Logic (symbolic and mathematical, so lawyers can see through the psuedo-logic that infects numerious legal rulings.

  • Rosa M Abdelnour

    I am the Dean of a Law School in Costa Rica in a private University, ULACIT, and I agree with the use of accreditation standars to force chages in Law Schools. Accreditarion is an instrument to give quality to legal education. I have read that Law Schools can reduced the time of preparation and include more practice (Clinics). In my country and in general in Latin America the teaching of Law is very memoristic wthout practices in most of the universities. You have been an example for us in the way to teach in the best way. What is happening?

  • Jim P.

    Law school is a working knowledge profession, and so it should be compared to traditional trade schools. Students should spend a year learning about the basics of the system, the various entities, court structures, key locations, etc. for the state they intend to practice in. Secondly, either focused classes or apprenticeship-like work scenarios should be mandated. Students should be educated as if each one of them were to become a solo practitioner; this way they'll learn the standards of the profession, a variety of topics in various fields and what it really takes to survive the industry. Every student should know how to conduct a real estate closing, file a small claims lawsuit, draft a will, etc.

    The amount of students accepted to the "apprenticeship" should vary based on job opportunities each year. Trade schools and related associations do the exact same thing for other industries. Most importantly, the cost of education needs serious evaluation. It's not feasible to charge $100,000 for an education that might not bring occupational benefits or meaningful salaries.

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