Law Schools

Is legal education solely law schools’ responsibility? ABA task force thinks not

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The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education has spent the past 10 months listening to others tell them what’s wrong with the system of legal education in this country and what should be done to fix it.

Now comes the hard part: Coming up with a set of recommended steps the ABA and others can take that would do something to remedy the situation.

The task force, which met Monday for the last time before it issues its initial recommendations next month, identified several broad themes that will guide it through the drafting process, including the current system for financing a law school education, the highly uniform structure of most law schools and whether the schools are doing enough to prepare graduates for the actual practice of law.

Task Force chair Randall T. Shepard, retired chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, said after Monday’s meeting that the discussion reflected an “earnest concern” among task force members over the rising costs of a legal education and an “earnest interest” in trying to identify steps that schools and the legal profession can take that might reverse that long-term trend.

“I think while there’s no silver bullet, a number of the proposals under examination by the task force have the potential to alter the cost picture in ways that are worth pursuing,” Shepard said.

Shepard also said that Monday’s discussion reflected a widely-shared belief among task force members that legal education is not solely the responsibility of law schools.

“I think the task force recognizes that there are things that bar associations, bar admission bodies, state supreme courts and others can do that might improve graduate readiness and address some of these cost issues,” he said.

Most of the group also seems to agree that law schools should be freer to experiment with the curricula than the current accreditation standards allow and that the recent trend toward more experiential learning should be continued if not accelerated. They also want the task force to be bold and innovative in its proposed solutions.

But there appears be no consensus as to what, if anything, the task force can say or do that would help control the costs of a legal education or lessen the impact that U.S. News and World Report’s annual law school rankings have had on law school admissions and the broader legal culture.

The task force plans to release a draft report with its initial recommendations by the end of July and has scheduled a public hearing on the report for Aug. 10, during the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. It hopes to issue its final report and recommendations in time to come before the policy-making House of Delegates at the 2014 Midyear Meeting next February in Chicago.

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