Monday, December 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Committees


It has been said that "All Politics is Local."  There is certainly some politics at work when one examines the ABA's "Draft Report and Recommendations, Task Force on the Future of Legal Education (September 20, 2013)," compared to, say, the Illinois State Bar Association's "Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services (March 8, 2013)"  Others, like MA's recent post, have commented on the ABA report already, and for the most part the reception of the ABA report has been, shall we say, less than enthusiastic by those not-directly affiliated with Law Schools.  However, less appears to have been said about State Bar views on the current state of the legal industry, and it is my personal opinion that the ISBA report says exactly what needs to be said.  While the ISBA might not call themselves "scambloggers" on this topic, I think the scambloggers can find common cause with the ISBA on these issues.

Rather than going through a long discussion of both reports, I thought I would summarize only the recommendations made by both committees for dealing with the crushing cost of a JD, the meager job opportunities, and the state of legal education.  Both reports have an outline of recommendations with supporting text, but I believe a simple review of the high-level topics is sufficient.

Topic Number 1:  What should Law Schools be doing?


1.   Develop and Implement a Plan to Manage the Investment of Law School Resources in Faculty Scholarly Activity, and Continually Assess Success in Accomplishing the Goals of the Plan.

2.  Develop a Clear Statement of the Value of the Law School's Program of Education and other Services Will Provide, Including Relation to Employment Opportunities, and Communicate that Statement to Students and Prospective Students

3.  Adopt, as an Institution-Wide Responsibility, the Promotion of Career Success of Graduates and Develop Plans for Meeting that Responsibility

4.  Develop Comprehensive Programs of Financial Counseling for Law Students, and Continually Assess the Effectiveness of Such Programs

ISBA:  1.  Focus on Practice-Oriented Courses

            2.  Provide Fewer Exotic Courses  (e.g. "Law and ______" courses)

            3.  Provide More Writing Assignments and Constructive Criticism

            4.  Teach Law Office Management

            5.  Provide Free Bar Review Courses

            6.  Transform the Second and Third Years of Law School

You gotta love the overly-wordy ABA.  Blah, blah, blah, what?  I don't even care anymore.  They are always, always, "Developing, Implementing, and Assessing," but mealy-mouthed about actual positive steps.  The ISBA, in contrast?  Teach practical courses.  Provide writing skills.  Teach Firm management.  Boom, boom, boom. 

Topic Number 2:  What Should Law Faculty be Doing?

ABA:   1.  Become Informed About the Subjects Addressed in This Report and Recommendations, in Order to Play in Effective Role in the Improvement of Legal Education at the Faculty Member's School.

2.  Individually and as Part of a Faculty, Reduce the Role Given to Status as a Measure of Personal and Institutional Success.

3.  Support the Law School in Implementing the Recommendations

ISBA:   1.  Change Tenure/Hiring Requirements; Less Emphasis on Scholarship

            2.  Include Practicing Judges and Lawyers on Hiring and Tenure Committees

            3.  More Reliance on Adjunct Faculty

            4.  Give Clinical and Legal Writing Faculty Equal Say in Governance

LawProfs should "become informed" so as to be "effective" in the implementation of the blah-blah report, reduce the role of "status", and "support" the law school in its success?  Sweet Lord, please don't break a sweat or anything, or get a hang nail while falling all over yourselves to implement change.  The ISBA?    Change tenure and hiring practices.  Focus on the practical.  Put actual practitioners on Law School committees and in the classroom.  Done.

Topic Number 3:  What about the Cost of Law School?

ABA:    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:

                                    a.  Cost-Based Pricing by Law Schools

                                    b.  Discriminatory Pricing by Law Schools

                                    c.  Reliance on Loans to Finance Law School Education

d.  The Structure of the Current Loan Program for Financing Law School Education

2.  Revise Standards, Interpretations, and Rules that Directly or Indirectly Raise the Cost of Delivering a J.D. Education Without Commensurately Contributing to the Goal of Ensuring that Law Schools Deliver a Quality Education.

3.  Develop and Implement a Plan for Reducing the Cost and Limiting Increases in the Cost of Delivering the J.D. Education, and Continually Assess and Improve the Plan.

ISBA                1.  Place Reasonable Limits on the Amounts Law Students Can Borrow

2.  Impose Outcome-Based Requirements on Law Schools for Federal Student Loan Eligibility

                        3.  Reallocate the Funds Available Through Loan Forgiveness Programs

So, in other words, the ABA thinks we need a Task Force to mumble-mumble about costs, while the ISBA says "lower costs and demand accountability."  Nice.

Topic Number 4:  How can the State Bars and State Supreme Courts help?

ABA                 1.  Construct and Evaluate Proposals to Reduce the Amount of Law Study Required for Persons to be Eligible for Practice

2.  Construct and Evaluate Proposals to Reduce the Amount of Undergraduate Study Required for Persons to be Eligible for Practice

                        3.  Establish Uniform National Standards for Admission to Practice

4.  Reduce the Number of Doctrinal Subjects Tested on Bar Examinations and Increase Testing of Skills

5.  Avoid Imposing Educational or Academic Requirements of Admission to Practice Beyond Those Required for ABA Approval of Law Schools

ISBA                1.  Consider Ways to Reduce Cost of Becoming Licensed

                        2.  Monitor Ethics Violations due to Excessive Student Loan Debt

                        3.  Help Young Attorneys Gain Practice Experience

                        4.  Facilitate Firm Apprenticeship Programs

                        5.  Partner with Law Schools to Provide Practice Experiences

                        6.  Facilitate Pro Bono Work

                        7.  Facilitate the Sale of Rural Law Practices to Young Lawyers

                        8.  Provide Debt Counseling

                        9.  Provide Solo/Small Firm Resources

                        10.  Partner with Stakeholders to Ensure Lawyers are Placed Where They Are Needed

Enough said.

Topic Number 5:          What about Accreditation?

ABA                 1.  Establish a Center or other Framework to Institutionalize the Process of Continuous Assessment and Improvement in the System of Legal Education.

2.  Establish a Mechanism for Gathering Information About Improvements in the System of Legal Education and Disseminate that Information to the Public.

3.  Establish Training and Continuing Education Programs for Prelaw Advisors to Improve their Understanding of the System of Legal Education and the Current Environment.

5.  Revise Standards, Interpretations, and Rules that Directly or Indirectly Impede Law School Innovation in Delivering a J.D. Education Without Clearly Contributing to the Goal of Ensuring that Law Schools Deliver a Quality Education.

6.  Revise Procedures Regarding Variances [Standard 802] to Promote Innovation and Experimentation

7.  Provide Additional Consumer Information to Prospective Students as Recommended in 2007 and 2008

ISBA                1.  Greater Role for Adjunct Faculty

                        2.  Require Law Schools Provide Debt-Counseling

                        3.  Remove Scholarship Requirement for Faculty

                        4.  Require Law Schools to Collect Additional Salary, Debt, Employment Status Information of Graduates

Hmmm.  The ABA has "a lot" to say here, while the ISBA keeps it short, sweet, and to the point.  Hmmm.  Irony.

Topic Number 6:  Anything else?

ABA                 1.  Establish Standards for Accreditation of Programs of Legal Education Other than the J.D. Program

2.  Authorize Persons Other than Lawyers with J.D.s to Provide Limited Legal Services, Whether Through Licensure or Other Mechanism Assuring Proper Education, Training, and Oversight

3.  Develop Educational Programs to Train Persons, other than Prospective Lawyers, to Provide Limited Legal Services.  Such Programs May, but Need Not, Be Delivered through Law Schools.

ISBA                [...]

What the, I don't even, ABA?!?  On the one hand, the ABA makes these luke-warm, half-hearted recommendations with no teeth; with the other, they are throwing law students and licensed attorneys under the bus because legal services are allegedly too expensive, too ineffective,  and allegedly not readily available for John Q. Citizen.  Wait, who accredits law schools like they were candy?  Yet, who has turned a blind eye to JD overproduction?  Yet, where was regulation of the industry with respect to costs and tuition, such that graduates can "afford" to work for less and supply these "needed" services?  What about the interests of actual, currently practicing lawyers - why are they supposed to take a haircut for No Real Reason, just because the ABA feels the need to distort the market?  Here's a pro-tip - the market has been distorted heretofore already, thanks, there is dubious need to add even more so-called "market correction." 

The ISBA, on the other hand, actually wants to regulate, streamline, and protect the profession - the end goal being legal services provided efficiently at reduced costs without knifing practitioners in the back all at the same time.  I highly suspect there is a way for law schools to make a profit in all this, too, albeit perhaps not at the rate of bank they were previously jonesing for.  They may have to settle for something more, I don't know, "reasonable."  Break out the violins, everybody, as the drama commences.

In conclusion, it is shocking to see the disparity in mission and motivation between two very similar organizations.  Some want to maintain their obtuse and wordy hierarchy; others want to actually take action to change things for the better.  Read the ISBA report; it is full of facts, figures, anecdotes, and recommendations.  I highly respect the efforts of those Illinois Bar Committee members who put it together and their admonitions regarding what to do about the state of the legal profession, indebted JDs, poor career prospects, and efficient delivery of legal services - they clearly feel some responsibility towards those within their jurisdiction.  The American BigLaw Association and their minions, in contrast, apparently have other objectives that lean more towards "innovative" hegemony and less towards the "pedestrian" concerns of Joe and Joanna JD.


  1. The ABA's report is just words used as fuzzily as possible to give the impression of concern, activity and reform where there is actually none. It's a smokescreen, just kicking the can down the road. The ABA and current professors will be retired in a few years and they just need a million more bucks to make their retirements unassailable secure. Then after that they don't care.

    I now see the ABA and law schools and law professors and law school administrators as active targets, and whatever can be done to expose and shame them is fair game. No more hiding behind "defamation". This blog needs to step its activity up a notch. It cowered a little with its removal of that post about Profesdor Racist at UCLA, and it is cowering with Leong and her ilk. Start targeting these lazy pompous professors and calling out their luxury and laziness.

  2. Everyone still in bed?????

  3. The ABA comes off as cowardly, the ISBA as courageous.

  4. The ABA is largely to blame for all the f*cked-uped-ness going in with law schools today. I know people who are members of ABA, but their employer law firm pays the dues. Does anyone actually pay dues for the ABA's worthless shite out-of-pocket?
    Congress needs to step in and regulate since the ABA sucks ass and always will. Seriously.

  5. As an ISBA member the main thing that disappoints me in their report is that they ignore the reality that at least 4 (out of 9!!!) Illinois law schools should be closed as of about 10 years ago. It's otherwise a good first step, and I understand that alumni don't want to see their alma mater get boarded up but let's cut the crap already. There is zero reason for John Marshall, Kent, DePaul, or Loyola to exist going forward, since the great majority of people currently enrolled at these institutions will never practice law. I also question whether we need both NIU and SIU, but at least those are state schools and thus somewhat less of a ripoff.

    1. As an Illinois bar member and alum of one of the schools you targeted for destruction, I agree in substance, although I would close NIU and JMLS and tell Kent, Loyola, and DePaul there's only room for one private school in Chicago that isn't NU or U of C.

    2. Yes, that's a good idea. Like in that 2008 batman movie where the joker gives the three henchmen of the black mafia don a broken pool que and tells them there's only room for one more on his team.

  6. ISBA report: prepared by a special committee of 13 members, including zero lawdeans or lawprofs. The special committee held five public hearings around the State. The hearings were publicized broadly through the ISBA newsletter, local bar association, and e-mail blasts to ISBA members. The ISBA report uses the word "crisis" 13 times.

    ABA report: prepared by a Task Force of 21 members, including 5 lawdeans or lawprofs. The Task Force held two hearings and a mini-conference, at which "various knowledgeable parties were invited to share information and perspectives." The ABA report uses the word "crisis" only one time- and even that solitary usage was in a "separate statement" at the end, which was signed by only one member of the Task Force, Nancy Rogers.

  7. So... law professors are daleks?

    "You can do anything your law degree, including fighting time lords across the galaxy!!!"

  8. So, state courts, professional regulation, and bar associations are finally (maybe) going to reassert themselves in governing the shattered remnants of this profession. Tell the tenured jackoffs where to go Illinois!

  9. "Revise Standards, Interpretations, and Rules that Directly or Indirectly Raise the Cost of Delivering a J.D. Education Without Commensurately Contributing to the Goal of Ensuring that Law Schools Deliver a Quality Education."

    If this drivel is an example of the writing skills law schools teach, then that in itself is a good argument for reforming them.

  10. If the Aba really wants to do a good deed it should appoint a task force to unclog what some animal left in the office handicapped stall. Then again that would require practical skills and an ability to use tools. nevermind

  11. Neither list will address the main problem, and so, the market will have to do it.

    Cheaper tuition? Still too many lawyers.

    More practice-ready graduates? Still too many lawyers.

    Debt-counseling? Still too many lawyers.

    More practically-qualified professors? Still too many lawyers.

    See a pattern here? Nobody wants to recognize the elephant in the room.

    1. There have always been too many lawyers. (A while back I posted about the Dean of Cornell Law School talking, in the 1970s (!!!), about the 'glut of lawyers'.)

      And while the hyper glut of lawyers that exists today and sky-high tuition are part of the problem, the killer (more or less literally) is NON-DISCHARGABLE DEBT.

      That's what has turned a possibly wasted 3 years into a life-wrecking experience for tens of thousands of people.

      And neither the ABA or the ISBA deal directly with this, although the ISBA does make some useful suggestions about mitigating the problem in the Cost of Law School section.

    2. Too many lawyers? Yes. But beyond that, too many law schools. I want to see some go under. I want to see them crash and burn.

  12. Can someone, preferably someone with serious legitimacy, I.E. Campos, please post a comment on this propaganda piece:

  13. Just like a gallon of milk and a pair of sneakers, the cost of law school has risen in recent years and will continue to do so. Proposals about reforming law schools, making classes more relevant, or giving free bar prep ignore the problem.

    The problem is that the public assumes that (a) law school leads to a lawyer job for 90+% of the players, and (b) that lawyer jobs pay "six figures or so" Ergo, law school's an investment; you're buying a job.

    Neither assumption is actually true, yet the public has a fiercely held notion that both assumptions are self-evident truths.

    The productive area for true reform is in the Public Mind. The law school brand is hopelessly outdated, but like many older ideas, it has incredible staying power. People don't want to update their cozy constructs of yester-year. People love Downton Abbey. Fortunately, few pull up stakes and emigrate to Europe looking to live that life.... most people have a realistic conception of life in modern Europe. Not so law.

    These blogs are the first, small baby steps in updating the law school brand. Bringing it down to reality and stripping away the pomposity. Today's reality is that most lawyers don't have traditional get-paid-by-the-task jobs; most are speculating on a case or hoping for a big win... and earnings for the few who do get paid are far closer to middle-class, secondary-spouse income levels than to upper-middle-class levels. A fair amount of lawyers simply survive.

    The simple solution is for a prospective student with up-to-date information to reach the conclusion that today's tuition levels simply ain't worth it.

    That's how to avoid the debt.

  14. Elwood: Illinois lawyers
    Jake: I hate Illinois lawyers

    The ISBA report has been a bright spot this year. Especially considering that Illinois (including infamous Madison County, which is just north of St. Louis) is one of the larger legal markets in the country. Anyone who's ever been in the Daley Center can tell you that Illinois is just teeming with lawyers.

    But the bottom line is that the practicing lawyers in the trenches see what's happening. The non-stop glut of lawyers is damaging the profession. But it's not the lawyers themselves, it's the debt.

    IBR, PAYE, consolidation and deferrals are just hiding the fact that law school debt is out of whack with what lawyers make. I'm really glad the ISBA recognizes this, but we don't have the political will to deal with it.

    I don't know what the solution will be, but it won't be pretty, because nothing will get done.