Law Schools

Clinical law profs solicit ABA legal ed council to require 15 credit hours in practice-based courses

The governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has been asked to amend the law school accreditation standards to require students to receive at least 15 credit hours of practical skills training.

A petition (PDF) to that effect was formally submitted to the council Monday by the Clinical Legal Education Association, a group representing the interests of more than 1,000 clinical law professors.

The current standards require only that students receive “substantial instruction” in the professional skills generally regarded as necessary for effective and responsible participation in the legal profession, which the ABA’s previous consultant on legal education has interpreted as requiring at least one “solid” credit hour of practical skills training.

The section’s standards review committee, which is conducting a comprehensive review of the standards, is considering a draft proposal that would require students to satisfactorily complete the equivalent of at least three credit hours of experiential course work, through simulations, law clinics or field placements.

The State Bar of California is also considering a proposal that would require law students there to receive 15 units (or 10,500 classroom-equivalent minutes) of competency skills training through coursework, externships, clerkships or apprenticeship programs.

That proposal, approved last month by the state bar’s task force on admissions regulation reform, must still be approved by the bar’s board of trustees and possibly by the California Supreme Court, the California Bar Journal reports. There, however, CLEA wanted a 21-unit requirement.

Under CLEA’s proposal to the council, students would be required to complete the equivalent of at least 15 credit hours in practice-based, experiential courses, such as law clinics, field placements or skills simulation courses, with at least one course in a law clinic or externship.

The proposal says that while many studies have demonstrated the need to enhance significantly the professional skills training of law students, the section to date has done little to address persistent calls for reform. It also says the current requirement represents a “dismal” 1 percent of a law student’s preparation for practice, while noting that many other professions—including medicine, pharmacy, architecture and social work—require that at least one-quarter of a graduate’s pre-licensing education be in professional skills development.

In a press release accompanying the petition, CLEA says that the council, as the U.S. Department of Education’s designated accreditor of law schools, has a duty to ensure that its standards meet the training needs of law students and the interests of the public. It also says that its proposed 15-credit hour requirement—which represents about one-sixth of a student’s total credit hours—is “certainly the minimum necessary” to ensure that graduates are competent to begin practicing law.

“We hope this will be an opportunity for the ABA to take a leadership role in pressing law schools to take seriously their responsibility to prepare students for the practice of law,” CLEA president Kate Kruse said.

Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, said he hasn’t had a chance to review the proposal, but that he expects it will be taken up by the committee, which meets next week, in the normal course of its work.

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