- 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 re-engineering.
- 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 The Task Force recommends that a number of the Standards be dramatically revised or repealed.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 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.
Orin Kerr offered an early view of the working paper:
I’m generally skeptical of ABA reports, but there are a lot of promising ideas in this one. I don’t agree with everything in there, certainly, but there are some significant ideas in there worth taking seriously.
The scamblogger view, unsurprisingly, was less generous:
Here’s the worst: The fundamental tension isn’t one between public good and private good. It’s one between the financial incentives and positioning of generation A vs. the financial disadvantages and positioning of generation B. All the rest of this gibberish is really just a sideshow. This whole shitball developed because bankruptcy discharge was removed and the loan spigot got turned on full blast and law schools, being fundamentally economic actors, gulped it up, and, being sociological actors, phrased everything to make themselves look noble while doing so.
They’re basically misdiagnosing the cause, which makes their treatment suggestions unworthy of consideration. This system has cancer and they’re claiming it’s dyspepsia. I don’t care what the treatment is, it won’t work unless you attack the tumor. We need surgery or chemotherapy, not some pills and observation suggestions.
Paul Horwitz at PrawfsBlawg appears less concerned with the working paper than the use of colorful language by the scambloggers.
A few things are clear from the content, and lack of content, in the ABA working paper. The “lost generation,” the kids who came out of law school over the past few years and found themselves saddled with huge debt and no jobs, are screwed. There is nothing in there for them.
The task force adopts the facile position that it’s counterproductive to moralize or blame, which will no doubt be applauded by those who deserve blame, including the ABA. Except the failure to do so avoids the hard task of understanding responsibility, cause and effect and bearing the consequences of the past.
There are parties at fault, and without calling them out for their fault, they get to enjoy the benefits of their selfishness and greed without consequence, as if it never happened. It happened. There is pain to be endured, and it should be meted out according to fault. That won’t happen. And with no price to be paid, there is no reason to suspect the same parties won’t try to spin this to their advantage again.
One of the most obvious, and critical failings, that the ABA has cranked out more lawyers than society can support, is ignored through some glib “public benefit” language, but while the concept sounds lovely and more than a little Utopian, it fails to deal with the issue of how they’re supposed to eat. It’s a glaring hole.
On the other hand, there are some good ideas in there for future law students, lawyers and the public. The paper suggests that law school doesn’t exist as a home for lawprofs to write esoteric articles, but to teach students how to become lawyers, though it doesn’t come out and clearly state that this has to change.
Is it enough? Is it better than nothing? Will it save the law schools and the legal profession from imploding, from being crushed under its own self-serving weight? Is it a start? Is it too little, too late?
Frankly, it’s more than I would have expected from the ABA, but then I’m neither a fan of the association nor a believer that it was capable of cleaning up this mess. So it’s better than I anticipated. But while it treats some of the symptoms, it’s not enough to cure the disease.
Do practicing lawyers have it in their heart to give a damn what happens to the profession, to those graduates of the past 7 or 8 years whose lives have been destroyed, to changes that will affect every lawyer going forward? We need to. Read the report and have an opinion.