Annual Meeting

Legal ed council votes to keep ban on academic credit for paid externships

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For the second time in little more than a year, the governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has rejected a proposal to lift the ban in the law school accreditation standards on students receiving academic credit for paid externships.

But the council, which met Friday in Chicago, said it would reconsider such a proposal as part of a broader effort to improve the standard governing field placements and other study outside of the classroom, which it directed the section’s Standards Review Committee to begin work on.

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

But the council voted to keep the ban, which the ABA House of Delegates—the governing body that must sign off on any changes in the standards—sent back to the council for reconsideration.

Under the committee’s latest proposal, a law school would have been able 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 requirements of the standard were being met.

The Law Student Division had lobbied hard for the proposed change, arguing that the current rule imposes a financial hardship on students. Many clinicians, however, opposed the lifting of the ban, contending that it would undermine the academic purposes of the placement.

Two legal education groups—the Society of American Law Teachers and the Clinical Legal Education Association—had urged the council to reject the committee’s proposal. But they also asked the council, if it were inclined to lift the ban, to delay such a move until the entire standard could be revised to help govern all externships more effectively.

Several council members were inclined to act on the proposal. Chair-elect Rebecca White Berch, an Arizona Supreme Court justice, said schools should be free to run their externship programs “as they see fit.” And council member Diane F. Bosse, of counsel to the Buffalo, New York, firm Hurwitz & Fine, said she didn’t understand what was wrong with the current standard.

But council member Jane Aiken, a professor and associate dean for clinical programs, public interest and community service at Georgetown University Law Center, cited what she said was CLEA’s detailed analysis of what’s lacking in the current standard, and pointed out that opposition to the proposal was virtually universal among externship and clinical teachers. And council member Tracy Allen Giles, a partner in the Roanoke, Virginia, firm Giles & Lambert, said it’s always been his experience that whenever money is involved, there must be greater checks and balances on the process.

At its meeting Friday, the council also voted to repeal a rule that allows most law schools to admit up to 10 percent of their entering class with students who haven’t taken the Law School Admission Test, effective with the entering class of 2017. But the decision cannot take effect until it is submitted to the House of Delegates at some later date because it wasn’t included in the report submitted to the House for its consideration on Monday.

The council also reaffirmed its decision in March to move the reporting of law-school funded positions “above the line” as a separate category in the ABA Standard 509-mandated employment summary report. Schools will be required to provide more detailed information about those jobs “below the line” on the employment summary report.

It also approved a new definition of “long-term employment” as one that the employer expects to last for one year or more, and to classify a law school-funded position as long term if the graduate is paid at least $40,000 a year.

In addition, the council approved a recommendation by the Data Policy and Collection Committee to except from the definition of a law school-funded position those jobs that are open to qualified graduates of all ABA-approved schools, such as faculty appointments and attorney positions in the school’s general counsel office.

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