Legal Education

ABA committee for third time proposes eliminating ban on academic credit for paid externships

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For the third time in less than two years, an ABA committee has proposed lifting the ban in the law school accreditation standards on students receiving academic credit for paid externships.

But the Standards Review Committee, which met Friday and Saturday in Atlanta, also agreed to forward such a proposal to the governing council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in case the council decides to keep the ban.

“We’re just trying to be fair,” said committee chair Scott Pagel, a professor and associate dean for information services at George Washington University Law School. “They’re the ones who have to decide, based on their reading of our proposed changes and the comments they receive from the community, if such a prohibition is still necessary.”

The ban on paid externships has been one of the most contentious issues to come before the council in recent years. The Law Student Division has lobbied hard to eliminate the prohibition, saying it limits the amount of field placement opportunities available to students. But many clinicians believe that eliminating the ban would undermine the academic purposes of the placements.

The committee, which makes recommendations to the council about changes in the accreditation standards, first proposed doing away with the ban last year during its comprehensive review of the standards.

But the council voted to keep the ban, which the ABA House of Delegates—the policymaking body that reviews any proposed changes in the standards—sent back to the council for reconsideration.

The committee then proposed that a law school be allowed to decide for itself whether a student should receive academic credit for a paid externship, but only if the school could demonstrate that it had maintained sufficient control over the student experience to ensure that the standards were being met.

However, the council also rejected that proposal, though it said it would reconsider the matter as part of a broader effort to improve the standard governing field placements and other study outside of the classroom.

At its meeting in Atlanta, the committee approved several proposed changes in that standard, including one that would define what a field placement course is and one that would require a written agreement spelling out the details of the placement between the student, the faculty member overseeing the placement and the site supervisor.

Then it voted down a separate proposal to keep the current ban on academic credit for paid externships.

“The majority felt the changes we’re proposing provide adequate protections to ensure the success of the field placement,” Pagel said.

At its meeting in Atlanta, the committee also recommended that “gender identity” be added to the list of groups that a law school shall not discriminate against; recommended some minor changes in the wording of the diversity and inclusion requirements; and proposed that a law school using an admission test other than the Law School Admission Test demonstrate that the company administering the test has shown it to be a valid and reliable indicator of an applicant’s ability to successfully complete its educational program.

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