ABA task force sees role for many in helping to fix legal education

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In its review of legal education, a special committee led by retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard concluded that fixing the problems in law schools will require help from individuals and groups outside the classroom.

The American Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education presented its working paper during the annual ABA conference in August. It is a comprehensive, 34-page report that takes a broad look at legal education from cost to faculty culture to accreditation and alternative law licenses.

The report noted that the public and private good that comes from training lawyers creates “a constant, never fully resolved tension” regarding what that education should include. Many of the issues considered by the task force were affected by the public and private perspectives, and, therefore, any recommendations must take into account these differing views.

Randall Shepard Shepard

The task force also took a close look at the legal community and the potential ways the bench and bar could help.

“I think we have believed that many parts of the profession might be able to make contributions toward correcting the challenges,” Shepard said.

Much of the commentary and attention to the problems in legal education have focused solely on law schools, he said. The committee advanced the idea that the courts, the bar associations, Congress and the press can all help, especially with concerns over student loan debt and job prospects.

In the report, the task force pointed out through the second half of the 20th century, the legal profession increasingly tried to assign more responsibility to law schools to teach the practical and business aspects along with legal theory and case law. This, the task force argued, has raised the costs and increased tuition.

To help alleviate the financial pressures, the task force said the practicing bar, business organizations and other groups could use their resources to contribute to the education of law students and new lawyers.

The ABA formed the task force about a year ago in response to the changes in the economy and in law firms that were negatively impacting law school graduates. Shepard was appointed chair of the task force. Former Valparaiso University Law School Dean Jay Conison was also named to the committee.

The task force will be issuing a final draft by mid-September and inviting comments and critiques. The final report will be published in November.

Shepard said he was encouraged by the spirit of the task force and the willingness of the members to listen to people. And he hopes the committee’s final report will bring about positive changes in legal education like the McCrate and Carnegie reports did.•


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