Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Law School Reform Taking Shape

Salon recently posted a fairly comprehensive article discussing the generally universal recommended reforms to legal education.

From the article:
Almost thirty years ago, the New York Times ran a Sunday magazine feature titled, “The Trouble with America’s Law Schools.” The piece highlighted many of the curricular concerns common today, particularly the lack of practical training, the inattention to issues of professional responsibility, and the disengagement of upper-level law students.

And as noted, we're still dealing with many of the same issues today. Here are some of the highlights from the recommended reforms:

Finances:
Schools also need to look for more ways to cut costs and to diversify their revenue streams. More programs for nonlawyers, undergraduates, practicing attorneys, and foreign graduate students are obvious options. Debt burdens for students could also be reduced by allowing them to attend after three years of college, as a few law schools now do.

Structure:
A further way of reducing the cost of at least some law schools would be for state supreme courts to eliminate the requirement that only graduates from ABA-accredited law schools may sit for the bar exam.

Curricula:
Educators should consider what competencies are necessary for legal practice and then adjust requirements accordingly. Such an approach would argue for greater focus on practical skills.

Values:
Clinics are an especially effective way of teaching legal ethics; engagement tends to be greatest when students are dealing with real people facing real problems. Ethical judgment in such settings demands more than knowledge of relevant rules and principles; it also demands a capacity to understand how those rules apply and which principles are most important in concrete settings.

Law Reviews:
A recent empirical study of law professors, student editors, attorneys, and judges identified ways to improve the editorial process. One is for student editors to rely on blind reviews and to consult with faculty in selecting articles to publish. Another is more training for student editors concerning selection and editing. Such training could help reduce the excessive length and references that have made articles so off-putting to nonacademic audiences.

Most of these suggested reforms are happening in some form across the country. There are schools starting master's of law programs for non-JD students, there are states allowing law school graduates to skip the bar exam altogether or allow limited licensed legal technicians to practice law, there is a call law-school wide to go toward a more practical education, and there has been talk of these types law review reforms for years with some schools taking action.

Although it may have happened at a snail's pace and under serious pressure, the law school model is changing.

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