Retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard will present the final findings and recommendations of the American Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education to the ABA House of Delegates Monday.
The task force has been working since mid-2012 and members have spoken publicly about its ideas prior to the submission of its final report in January. It had earlier released two preliminary drafts of the study and hosted open discussions as well as made presentations of its conclusions.
Members of the committee came from academia, private practice, the courts and other legal entities.
“I’ve been very encouraged by the fact that a committee with many different opinions on the topic was able to come to such a level of agreement,” Shepard said. While he noted everyone on the task force did not agree with every word in the final report, he was unsure after the early meetings that the members could reach any level of agreement.
The task force recommended a rethinking of how lawyers are trained and offered comprehensive suggestions for change.
In particular it called for a modification of accreditation standards so law schools could innovate with new curriculum and programs. Also, it questioned whether the course of study for a J.D. needs to be three years.
Maintaining that other legal organizations also share in the responsibility for teaching lawyers, the committee included recommendations for bar associations, law firms, and the courts. It urged the entities to adopt a uniform bar examination and to reduce the amount of study required to sit for the bar.
The task force also recommended allowing non-lawyers to offer limited legal services as a way to improve access to justice.
Initially, the committee had planned to tender a series of resolutions for the House of Delegates to consider. However, Shepard said as the workgroup got closer to finishing its work, it realized the report was written from the perspective of speaking directly to the institutions and the profession. So instead of investing the extra time to reshape the recommendations into resolutions, the task force decided to spend the remaining months of its mandate to make presentations to various players and hope for prompt action.
Shepard conceded not offering resolutions might weaken the proposals put forth by the committee. He has always thought getting a resolution approved by the House of Delegates was a plus, but he said the task force is hopeful the power of the ideas will carry the weight that is due them.