ABA Task Force's White Paper Causes A Stir

The ABA Task Force On The Future Of Legal Education released a white paper on August 1, 2013, calling for substantial change in legal education. 

Brian Leiter, a Law Prof out of the University of Chicago wrote a two part blog series on the paper highlighting many of the pertinent parts. 

From Part I:
Sections VII and VIII contain the key recommendations of the Task Force.  Section VII is billed as "themes addressed to all parties," of which there are eight key ones (excluding the final recommendation that the Task Force's work be "institutionalized" within the ABA).  Three strike me as excellent and overdue, namely:

"There should be greater heterogeneity in law schools" (p. 23-24).  That's certainly a theme I've mentioned in the past.  There's heterogeneity not just in colleges and universities (of which there are many more), but also even in medical schools (a fact captured even by U.S. News, which ranks "research" schools separately from "teaching" schools [though the latter also do research]).
"There should be greater heterogeneity in programs that deliver law-related education" (p. 25).  This is part of a general and sensible theme in the WP, namely, that there need to be systems of certification for certain kinds of legal professionals "who are qualified to provide limited law-related services without the oversight of a lawyer" (p. 25).
"The regulation and licensing of law-related services should support mobility and diversity of legal services" (p. 28).  Again, there's no point in heterogeneity of law schools and law-related programs, if there isn't a change in regulation and licensing of those providing different kinds of legal services.

This corresponds with the call for a multi-tiered system of legal education and practice. Under this system, a prospective law student could choose one of many tracks he or she would like to pursue and also choose a law school curriculum that best supports the chosen track.

Part II of Leiter's series discusses the cost/benefit analysis of law school and market forces that drive it. It's worth a look. 
Paul Horwitz at PrawfsBlawg discusses how this white paper is too little, too late: 

"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..."
Horowitz has some good points, but as another recent paper points out, there is still an economic value of a law degree. In most cases, those who went to law school will still be in a better position. The authors found that median additional lifetime earnings for those with a law degree were $610,000. That means half of law school graduates made more and half less than this amount over their lifetime. So even at the 25th percentile, lifetime additional earnings were $350,000.

This coupled with Income Based Repayment and/or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and it's an even better deal. 

Although many recent graduates are feeling despair, it is common for new attorneys to feel this way. With just a few exceptions, the longer lawyers have been out of law school, the more satisfied they are overall with their careers.

One thing is certain. It is time for the legal academe to take note -- things must change. The white paper warns law schools to make these changes and not fall into the trap of thinking that this is a transient period where things will soon return to 'normal.' Nearly everyone agrees that this is our new reality, and I applaud the ABA for finally starting to lead the way. 


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