ABA task force calls for sweeping changes in legal education system
Posted Jan 24, 2014 7:58 AM CST
By Mark Hansen
The ABA should create a task force or a commission to undertake an in-depth examination of law school price and funding issues, an ABA task force says.
The ABA should also establish a mechanism to institutionalize the process of assessing and improving the legal education system, the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education says.
The governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the ABA’s law school accrediting arm, should also relax or eliminate accreditation standards that drive up the costs but not necessarily the quality of a legal education, according to the task force.
And state supreme courts, bar associations and lawyer regulatory authorities should look for ways to reduce the educational requirements for admission and consider proposals that would authorize people without JDs to provide limited legal services, the task force says.
The task force’s final report is not all that different from the draft report it issued in mid-September, or, for that matter, from the working paper it released in early August. Though the final report contains many changes from the draft report, most of the changes are minor. The key findings and conclusions are essentially the same.
What has changed dramatically since then is the task force’s game plan. It originally planned to submit a list of policy recommendations to the House for consideration at next month’s ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago, and as recently as early December was quietly circulating a set of six proposed resolutions that it was planning to bring to the House floor.
But the Committee on Rules and Calendar, the House gatekeeper, put a stop to that when it rejected the task force’s proposed resolutions on procedural grounds. At that point, task force chair and retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said, the task force realized that making the necessary changes wouldn't be feasible.
“In the end, it turned out that our recommendations, by speaking so directly to the parties involved, didn't fit very well into the form of a House resolution,” he said.
As a result, Shepard said he and the rest of the task force will spend the remaining seven months of their appointment speaking to and explaining their findings and recommendations to the specific groups and entities to which they're addressed. One of his first stops will be the House, which has given him 10 minutes at the Midyear Meeting to make his case.
“We see it as part of our assignment to try and spread the word as widely as possible,” he said.
ABA President James R. Silkenat praised the task force for tackling such a complex and nuanced subject as the future of legal education in such a productive and sophisticated way. He said he hopes the final report sparks a broad-based discussion among stakeholders about what sort of changes are necessary to keep the U.S. legal education system the world’s best.
“My instincts tell me that discussion, which has already begun, will continue to bubble along for quite some time,” he said.
And he’s doing his part. Silkenat said he will ask the ABA Board of Governors at the midyear meeting to approve the creation of a new task force to conduct the kind of detailed examination of law school pricing and financing issues recommended by the task force. He said he hoped that effort would result in a “comprehensive and deep” study of the issue, so that specific recommendations to address it can then be developed.