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The Task Force Recommends Forming A New Task Force

d-report-cardSo I went through the ABA Task Force On The Future Of Legal Education Draft Report in detail. So many words that don’t actually say anything. Attention Task Force: Stop with all the definitions. “Organizations, which are composed of people,” “culture …”  “law…” People know what these things are. Considering the only people reading this report are lawyers, let’s hope they have a general understanding of the basic definitions of common vocabulary. The report is overwrought and verbose. It spends thirty-eight pages saying what could have been said in five. Brevity is a good thing.

There are a lot of things that could be said about the report, but honestly, most of it is just not that interesting. I do want to pull out a couple sections though:

Consumer Attitudes toward Legal Education. There are two broad perspectives on higher education in the United States: (a) education as a means to personal growth and development; and (b) education as a means to a job or career. The latter has greatly increased its influence in recent years. This has affected the relationship between higher education institutions and students, causing higher education to take on more transactional and consumer attributes.

Law schools are pathways to a specific type of career, but have long positioned themselves under perspective (a), as providing an advanced general purpose (if not advanced liberal arts) education. This is reflected, for example, in the traditional view that law school substantially involves teaching students to think in a certain way. Law schools, however, now find that they have to reposition themselves at least partly under perspective (b). This requires a restructuring of curriculum, student services, and the business of legal education.

Bullshit. No one goes to law school for some sort of intellectual wankery. Okay, maybe 1% do – and then go on to become law professors. PEOPLE GO TO LAW SCHOOL IN ORDER TO BECOME LAWYERS. That’s the entire point. The above is such crap, it’s infuriating. This attitude is why there are so many bitter law students. They didn’t go to law school in order to expand their intellectual horizons. They went to law school to get jobs. And don’t act like that’s a new perspective either. That’s why people have been going to law school for decades.

After thirty pages of wasted paper, we finally get to something substantial, Section VII Specific Recommendations.

The American Bar Association should undertake the following: 1. Establish A Task Force or Commission With Appropriate Expertise to Examine and Recommend Reforms Regarding Law School Pricing and Financing. Issues Within the Scope of Such a Project Should Include…

I suppose it should come as no surprise that when you compose a committee full of lawyers, it’s first step is to propose another committee. Hence the high level of productivity in government. Anyway, the following are “Specific Standards and Interpretations that should be eliminated or substantially liberalized on this ground include the following”:

  • 304-5 (relating to credit for work PRIOR to matriculation in law school)

This has some potential. If they were available, I could see many students taking some advanced undergrad classes that would provide law school credit. This would help reduce costs and time spent in law school

  • 306 (relating to distance education)

I’m not sure how I feel about this. There is definitely a trend towards online classes in education. Think Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). That being said, networking and relationships are big part of the law school experience and are vital to success as a lawyer. You’re not going to be forming relationships with people while you’re watching a lecture on the couch, in your underwear, eating Cheetohs.

  • 403 (relating to proportion of courses taught by full-time faculty)

Less tenured professors, mored adjuncts. A part of the cost problem with law schools is the high salaries of its tenured professors. Ditch professors who are engaging in useless scholarship and bring in lawyers with actual experience to teach classes.

  • 405 (relating to tenure and security of position) 

Ditch tenure. Or at least make it much more difficult to acquire.

  • 206(c) (requiring that, except in extraordinary circumstances, a dean be a faculty member with tenure)

I don’t have a real opinion on this. Friday, commenter BCReed suggested that law schools “Hire real business managers” for their deans. I’m not sure if that would be a benefit, but it might work.

  • 304(b) (requiring as a condition of graduation 58,000 minutes of instruction time) 
  • 304(c) (requiring that the J.D. program be completed no earlier than 24 months after commencement of law study) 
  • 305(c) (prohibiting credit for field placements in which the student receives compensation) 

Many have called for the elimination of the third year, but what exactly does that achieve? Just lopping a year off of law school doesn’t magically fix the problems with law schools. Instead of eliminating a year, there should be a focus on fundamentally restructuring the education of lawyers. Ditch all of the silly courses about Law and Superheores (no slight to the Law and the Multiverse guys), and focus on core legal classes. Then integrate practical experience into law school. In Real Property, break out some deeds. In Contracts, draft licensing agreements. Something, anything, to get law students doing the type of work they will be doing once they graduate from law school. In an ideal world, law schools would shift the third year to a residency program a la medical school. Or adopt the Canadian articling system. Articling involves on-the-job training, at a lower introductory salary, under the supervision of a lawyer licensed by the Provincial Bar who has been practicing for a minimum of 5 years. After twelve months, attorneys are free to practice on their own. But this would require such a fundamental shift in legal education in the US, it’s unlikely to ever happen (although it should).

  • 701-2 (relating to physical facilities) 

Ditch the gigantic library (that no one uses except as a place to study) requirement. Everything is done via WestLaw, LexisNexis, Bloomberg, FastCase, Google, etc.

These recommendations aren’t perfect, but they are a good first step in righting the ship. The trick will be whether the ABA and law schools actually adopt any of them.