Law Schools

ABA committee reaffirms proposal to remove ban on academic credit for paid externships

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An ABA committee has wrapped up its comprehensive review of the law school accreditation standards after deciding not to make any changes in the last of its pending proposals to amend the standards.

The Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar’s standards review committee, which met Friday in St. Louis, first held a public hearing on the six remaining proposed changes in the standards, which the section’s governing council had posted in March for notice and comment.

Then the committee met to decide whether it wanted to reconsider any of its previous recommendations to the council in light of the comments it has received in response to its suggested changes.

The committee did entertain a motion to reconsider the most controversial of the six proposals: one that would eliminate the current prohibition against granting academic credit to a student who participates in a field placement program or externship which the student receives pay.

That proposal had drawn by far the most comment of the six, much of it in opposition to any change in the existing standard.

About a dozen students and faculty members had voiced support for the committee’s recommendation, which has also been endorsed by the ABA’s Law Student Division. But more than two dozen individuals and organizations, including the Society of American Law Teachers and the Clinical Legal Education Association, which submitted a petition containing the names of 159 members, objected to the proposed changes.

Supporters of the committee’s proposal say a blanket prohibition against receiving credit for a field placement where a student receives compensation puts significant limits on the availability of field placement opportunities for students.

But critics say allowing students to be paid while simultaneously receiving academic credit would undermine the academic focus of their field placement experiences and do little to expand the placement opportunities available to students.

Committee member Thomas A. Edmonds, who had previously voted in favor of the committee’s proposal, moved to reconsider the matter, citing the outpouring of opposition the recommendation has generated.

But the motion was soundly defeated. And nobody on the committee moved to revisit any of the other proposed changes in the standards.

They include one that would permit schools to admit certain students who haven’t taken the Law School Admission Test without a variance from the section; and another that would limit the number of transfer credits a student may receive for prior law study not undertaken as a JD-degree student at another ABA-approved school.

All of the proposed changes will now go back to the council for final consideration at its June 6 meeting in Cleveland. If approved by the council, the changes will be reviewed by the ABA House of Delegates at the association’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Boston in August. The House can either concur with the council’s decision or refer a matter back to the council for reconsideration with a statement setting forth its reasons for the referral. But the council has the final say on any changes in the standards.

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