Beyond Transparency: The Crisis of Confidence in Legal Education
Law schools have long kept a comfortable distance from the concerns of the practicing bar. Earlier calls for reform such as the MacCrate Report (1992), the Carnegie Foundation’s Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Practice of Law (2007), and Stuckey et al, Best Practices for Legal Education (2007), have led to a greater emphasis on more practical training, at least in law school admissions brochures if not always in the curriculum. Increasing competition for rankings has also changed the dynamics of reputation with respect to academic study and practical training at some law schools. Fundamentally, however, most schools have seen little change in the curriculum and overall approach to delivery of instruction since the last century. Despite this, students have continued to flock to law schools, and more law schools have sought and received accreditation. Recently, however, a series of high-profile news reports, blogs, lawsuits by recent graduates, ABA disciplinary actions against law schools, and calls from Congress for stricter regulation have brought increased public attention to fundamental questions about the delivery of legal education in the U.S. What was once dismissed as the unfounded complaints of a minority of embittered law students is approaching a full-blown scandal. Issues such as the ABA’s capture by the law schools it is meant to accredit and regulate, the skyrocketing cost of a legal education in the face of what some argue is a long-term restructuring in the legal market and a permanent downturn in employment, and law schools’ failure to disclose meaningful and accurate information regarding employment prospects, are converging into a widespread sense of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with legal education.
While the perspectives and methods of the panelists vary, each has been a voice for reform within legal education. Some call for a strengthened regulatory hand; others call for deregulation of the legal profession or for voluntary collective action by law schools. All share a concern for the improvement of legal education and the profession. This panel will be an opportunity for a candid and highly interactive assessment of the situation and directions forward.
Confirmed list of panel members:
Professor Paul F. Campos (University of Colorado Law School) —
Professor Kim Diana Connolly (University at Buffalo Law School) —
Professor Jeffery L. Harrison (University of Florida Levin College of Law) —
Professor William D. Henderson (Indiana University, Maurer School of Law) —
Associate Professor Lucille Jewel (Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School) —
Professor Larry E. Ribstein (University of Illinois College of Law) —
Professor Brian Tamanaha (Washington University School of Law) —
Unfortunately, this program will not be presented at AALS in DC this year. I worked with the panelists listed above (including the late Larry Ribstein, whose passing a couple of weeks ago was mourned by dozens of law bloggers and hundreds of law professors) and submitted it as a Hot Topic proposal in November. In December the proposal was rejected; the reason given was that the topic was sufficiently addressed in the workshop on legal education starting in a few minutes.
When the Association of American Law Schools gathers in Washington today for a three-day conference, many big and timely issues will be up for discussion. Presentations will address the financial crisis, the mortgage crisis, the legal fallout of the BP oil spill and, perhaps inevitably, Occupy Wall Street.
But relatively few sessions address a crisis making headlines that falls much closer to home for faculty and administrators from the association’s more than 160 member schools: the increasingly prominent questions about transparency, job placement rates and “value” in American legal education, and the attendant concern that law schools could be next (after the “vocational” and for-profit programs subject to the U.S. government’s new “gainful employment” rules) in line for federal scrutiny and regulation.
The event’s organizers say that those issues will doubtless be discussed at the conference, although the nature of planning such gatherings — many sessions are proposed almost a year in advance — makes it more difficult to highlight up-to-the-minute issues. And a workshop today will address “the future of the legal profession and legal education,” including sessions on innovations in teaching and challenges and changes to law school economics….
Although the association does add sessions on “hot topics,” including sessions this year on Libya and the Occupy Wall Street protests, those are determined by which proposals are submitted, and there was not a strong proposal for a session on the legal education crisis, [AALS Executive Director] Prager said.
I thought we submitted a pretty strong proposal myself.