Shepard task force paper cites ‘deeply flawed’ legal ed funding system

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Former Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard’s task force looking at the future of legal education financing sees a “deeply flawed” system, according to a working paper presented at this week’s annual meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

“At present, the system faces considerable pressure prompted by rising tuition, large amounts of student debt, falling applications, and limited availability of jobs for law graduates," according to the report overview.

Highlights of the Task  Force on the Future of Legal Education’s conclusions include:

  •  The top-scoring LSAT earners qualify for tuition discounts with little regard for need, shifting the loan burden to those scoring lower. “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 ABA should revise or eliminate accreditation standards that “sustain a far higher level of standardization in legal education than may be necessary to turn out capable lawyers.”
  • ABA accreditation should better facilitate innovations in law school programs, and its variance processes should be open to public view “as an avenue to foster experimentation by law schools.”
  • The balance between skills training and hands-on training “needs to shift still further toward the core competencies needed by people who will deliver legal services to clients.”
  • State courts, bars and admitting authorities should find additional ways to deliver legal services, “such as licensing limited practitioners or authorizing bar admission for people whose preparation is not in the traditional three-year classroom mold.”

The 34-page paper will be the subject of a five-hour ABA hearing on Saturday. Shepard told the ABA Journal he expects some recommendations to be widely applauded and others widely condemned, though he didn’t say which proposals would be so received.

Created last year, the task force expects to produce a final report by Nov. 20, the filing deadline to be placed on the agenda for the ABA House of Delegates’ Midyear Meeting in Chicago in February 2014, ABA Journal reported.




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