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ABA Legal Education Task Force calls for law school innovation

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The American Bar Association Task Force for the Future of Legal Education, led by Randall Shepard, retired chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, issued its draft report Friday, Sept. 20, with recommendations for improving law schools.

The 38-page report largely mirrors a working paper the task force issued in August. According to task force reporter and former Valparaiso Law School Dean Jay Conison, this draft reflects incremental improvements the committee made in response to comments since the working paper’s publication.

“My view is the task force has taken on an extremely difficult project,” Conison said. “It worked extremely hard and very thoughtfully to attempt to understand both the internal problems and challenges, and the many integrated opportunities for improvement.”

Throughout the report, the task force encourages law schools to become more innovative and increase the heterogeneity of programs. Related to that recommendation, the task force suggested the ABA eliminate or “substantially” liberalize standards that, for example, mandate students must spend three years in law school or restrict credit for paid internships.

The task force report encourages law schools to try new and improved ways of delivering legal education that benefit students and possibly lowers costs, Conison said. How much innovation and what kinds of risks to take will be something schools will have to sort out on their own.

Other key conclusions include:
•    Re-engineering the way legal education is priced and funded.
•    Putting more emphasis on skills training, experiential learning and practice-related competencies.
•    Developing new frameworks for licensing providers of legal services, potentially allowing individuals who do not hold a law degree to deliver limited legal services.

Conison believes the final recommendations of the task force could bring fundamental changes.

“This has the potential of having enormous benefit on legal education,” he said.

The task force is soliciting public comment on the draft report which will be used to help the panel prepare a final report scheduled to be submitted in November. This document will be considered by the ABA House of Delegates in February 2014. Neither the draft report nor the final report represents the policy or positions of the ABA.

According to Conison, reactions to the working paper have been thoughtful and analytical. The task force has worked to reconcile competing recommendations from the public.

Shepard will be talking about the future of legal education when he delivers the Clynes Chair Lecture at 4 p.m., Sept. 25, at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

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