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Law Schools to Discuss Possible Major ChangesAssociation of American Law Schools has given significant attention to teaching methods
When 3,000 law professors gather in January for the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, they'll discuss a number of challenges to the status quo, including changing the format of law school, encouraging new forms of scholarship, deciding whether to find new ways for law schools to select students and strengthening the pipeline to public services careers. AALS President Nancy Rogers says the decisions by law schools during the next few years may produce deep changes in legal education.
The National Law Journal2007-09-11 12:00:00 AM
When 3,000 law professors gather in New York in January for the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), they will discuss a number of challenges to the status quo. The challenges include changing the format of law school, encouraging new forms of scholarship, deciding whether to find new ways for law schools to select students and strengthening the pipeline to public services careers. The decisions by law schools during the next few years in response to these discussions may produce deep changes in legal education.
The AALS Curriculum Committee cited what it described as a "growing sense among legal educators that it is time to rethink legal education" as a reason to gather the critics of the current model in an opening panel of the annual meeting. It is not that we should expect law professors to eliminate questions like, "Ms. Giles, what is the issue in State v. ... ?" in response to the critics' viewpoints. In fact, a report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "Educating Lawyers," released this year, praises legal education for its approach to the development of students' legal analysis abilities -- its signature Socratic teaching method.
The Carnegie report, however, does raise fundamental questions about the role of law schools. The authors criticize the overuse of the Socratic method. Further, the report argues that law schools should improve their teaching of law practice skills and professional judgment. In the same vein, participants at an American Bar Association-sponsored Conclave on Legal Education called for better transitions to practice, and the "Stuckey" report from clinical legal educators, "Best Practices for Legal Education," issues a similar challenge.
The authors of the Carnegie report suggest that legal educators adopt the medical apprenticeship model for imparting skills and professional judgment, beginning in the first year of law school. Should law schools attempt to prepare law graduates to open a law office immediately after graduation? Further, law schools have not yet settled on an affordable apprenticeship model that delivers the quality of modeling and feedback of the medical model for all students throughout law school. But one can expect a number of these proposals for new approaches in the coming months.
PENDING BILLS ON DEBT RELIEF
Public service and student debt. Past curricular reform has sometimes increased law school expenses, passed on to students in the form of higher tuition. If law students, through tuition, must pay even more so that law schools can modify pedagogical approaches, that change implicates another pressing issue -- the effect of student debt on the pipeline to public service careers.
At an AALS/National Law Journal panel earlier this year, one panelist spoke of a 50 percent turnover of lawyers each year in one prosecutor's office. Another told about the prosecutor who worked as a waitress in the evening, sometimes serving the defense lawyers she negotiated with during the day, in order to pay educational debt. These may be early signs of strain in the pipeline from law school to the public and nonprofit legal services sectors. The ABA reported that the class of 2006 owed a median law school debt of $54,509 if they attended public law schools and $83,181 if they attended private law schools. Panelists noted that law school and bar efforts to reduce the debt burdens for those headed for these lower-paying jobs were spotty ("More will than wallet," said Howard University's law dean, Kurt Schmoke).
On Friday, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, H.R.2669, and the White House has announced that the president will sign it. A key portion of the bill opens the door considerably for law graduates with educational debt to take public service jobs, even if the salaries are low. They must be willing to make a financial sacrifice, of course, but it is feasible for them to take the low-paying jobs because of a ceiling on annual loan payments that is tagged to their income. Also, these individuals taking low-paying public service jobs can now imagine supporting their own children's college education because of a provision for loan forgiveness after 10 years of qualifying public service. Fortunately, public service is defined broadly, covering government service and work for a nonprofit organization that is tax exempt under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. When the president signs this legislation, it will provide considerable relief. Even with this relief, the costs of teaching, and the effect of debt on the career choices of graduates, are likely to remain an important consideration in deciding how to change the curriculum.
International/comparative law. All politics may be local, but legal education is increasingly international in focus. Law schools have expanded international course offerings, and law faculties have added comparative law focuses within existing courses. Carl Monk, executive director of the AALS, has helped to organize an International Association of Law Schools (IALS), which now includes 140 member law schools from 45 countries. Sixty-five U.S. law schools belong to IALS as well as the AALS -- yet another indication that their focus has broadened beyond the U.S. borders. An opening workshop at the AALS annual meeting will examine whether law schools should do more to prepare law students for the increasingly international legal arena.
CREDIT FOR BLAWGING?
E-expertise and scholarship. One of the challenges relates to faculty scholarship rather than teaching or student selection. Law professor bloggers, or "blawgers" as some call themselves, number in the hundreds. They transmit their expert opinions online in short, timely postings and receive immediate feedback from those in the courts and practice. This limits, they say, their time to write the traditional lengthy law review articles and treatises. One of the treasured aims of legal scholarship has been to inform the courts and policymakers. Now the courts have begun to cite blogs in their opinions, and blawgers report hearing from policymakers that the blogs have arrived at just the right time to help them understand the area of law and issues before acting.
Blawgers argue that their online pieces should "count" as a professor's required scholarly activity and not just as social exchange. The blawgers may not prevail in their argument that blogs are scholarship, as other faculty despair of maintaining high-quality scholarship without the intermediary checks of law review staffs or peer reviews. To promote discussion of these issues, the AALS and The National Law Journal will sponsor an online debate on these issues on Sept. 17 at Santa Clara University, and the AALS annual meeting includes a plenary session on this topic.
Student selection. Law schools seek to have diverse student bodies. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in her defining opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, cited the AALS amicus brief when she noted that law schools were "the training ground for a large number of our Nation's leaders." She added, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."
This year two developments may affect law student diversity: the U.S. Supreme Court ruling related to primary and secondary schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, and proposals to base law school accreditation more heavily on particular bar passage rates than is now the case, a development that some believe will focus admissions decisions even more on Law School Admission Test scores. Law faculty will focus on these developments during an annual meeting plenary session and in other settings, discussing the implications for future law school admissions.
These challenges may affect much of what law schools do -- their teaching, business models, recruitment of students and definition of faculty scholarship. Law faculty, who often urge innovation by others, are considering deep change themselves, and practicing lawyers may be asked by their law schools, under some options, to take heavier responsibilities in the transition of law students to professionals.
Nancy H. Rogers is president of the Association of American Law Schools and the dean and Moritz chair in alternative dispute resolution at Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law.