PON-TI-FI-CATE! OB-FUS-CATE! E-VI-CER-ATE!!!
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
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.
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.