A working draft of the report of the ABA Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession has been released, and if it holds, it points to a serious shake-up in how lawyers are produced in this country. Here are what the paper describes as its highlights, with our own highlights:
- Law school education is funded through a complex system of tuition, discounting, and loans. Schools announce standard tuition rates, and then chase students with high LSAT scores by offering substantial discounts without much regard to financial need. Other students receive little if any benefit from discounting and must rely mainly on borrowing to finance their education. The net result is that students whose credentials (and likely job prospects) are the weakest incur large debt to sustain the school budget and enable higher credentialed students to attend at little cost. These practices drive up both tuition and debt, and they are in need of serious reengineering.
- The system of accreditation administered by the ABA Section of Legal Education has served the profession and the nation well. But it has come to sustain a far higher level of standardization in legal education than may be necessary to turn out capable lawyers. The ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools also impose requirements that add expense without conferring commensurate benefits. We conclude that the section would serve the public interest by enabling more heterogeneity among law schools. The Task Force recommends that a number of the Standards be dramatically revised or repealed.
- The ABA’s accreditation system should facilitate substantial innovations in law school programs better than it does today. The current procedures under which schools can seek to vary from ABA Standards in order to pursue experiments are completely confidential and fairly narrow in practice. The Task Force recommends that the ABA Section open its variance processes to full public view and use the variance system energetically as an avenue to foster experimentation by law schools.
- The profession’s calls for more attention to skills training and experiential learning have been well taken, and law schools have done much to expand such opportunities for students. There is [a] need to do more. The balance between doctrinal instruction and hands on training needs to shift still further toward the core competencies needed by people who will deliver legal services to clients.
- State supreme courts, state bar associations, and admitting authorities should devise additional frameworks for licensing providers of legal services, such as licensing limited practitioners or authorizing bar admission for people whose preparation is not in the traditional three year classroom mold.