Amid declining enrollment figures and the high price it costs students to pay for their legal education, the American Bar Association is calling on the legal education system to redesign the financial model currently in place and possibly eliminate accreditation standards that drive up the costs but not necessarily the quality of a legal education.
The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education — commissioned in July 2012 by then-ABA President Bill Robinson — which was formed to investigate problems that plague the U.S. system of legal education, spells out its recommendations in the recently released final report.
“At present, the system faces considerable pressure because of the price many students pay for their education, the large amount of student debt, consecutive years of sharply falling applications, and dramatic changes, possibly structural, in the market for jobs available to law graduates,” the report states. “These factors have resulted in great financial stress on law schools, damage to career and economic prospects of many recent graduates and diminished public confidence in the system of legal education.”
While the U.S. legal education system is still considered to be the gold standard, the legal profession needs to do more to keep the system from weakening, according to ABA President James R. Silkenat.
“As the task force report acknowledges, the U.S. legal education system is widely admired around the world, but we in the legal profession all must work to ensure that the system remains strong and viable to meet the evolving needs of our clients and society in a changing, globalized world,” Silkenat said in a statement.
The task force’s chair, former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, will report the recommendations to the ABA House of Delegates at the association’s upcoming midyear meeting in Chicago.
“The breadth and depth of testimony the task force heard makes it clear that there are no fast and painless answers for the problems facing legal education, which are created by often complex and interrelated forces,” Shepard said.
The number of first-year law students fell 11 percent last year with 39,675 full-time and part-time students enrolled in law school, nearly 5,000 fewer than in 2012. That number is just one student shy of 1977 enrollment levels, when the ABA reported 39,676 first-year students.
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