The dismal job market for newly minted lawyers has influenced how most law school administrators approach their course offerings, with 76 percent of the institutions surveyed by the American Bar Association reporting that they’ve modified their curricula to adapt.
That’s one key finding in the ABA’s first empirical survey of law school curricula in a decade, which will be released on Aug. 4 during the organization’s annual meeting in Chicago.
The influence the employment picture is having on law school classes is seen most obviously in the rise of so-called practical skills courses: clinics, simulations and externships. Law schools have increased their course offerings in each of those areas, according to the report.
The survey uses the findings of a previous ABA study of curricula that covered the years 1992 to 2002 as a baseline for comparison.
“The survey responses reveal a renewed commitment by law schools to review and revise their curricula to produce practice-ready professionals,” said Hulett “Bucky” Askew, the ABA’s consultant on legal education. “The report illuminates the extent to which faculties and administrators have responded to the evolving needs of their students and to changes in the legal services industry.”
Media scrutiny of law school curricula has also fueled some of the changes, said Southwestern Law School Professor Catherine Carpenter, chair of the ABA committee that produced the report.
Additionally, more than half of the schools surveyed reported being influenced by two separate reports that called for more professionalism and real-world skills in law schools: The so-called Carnegie Report and Best Practices for Legal Education, both published in 2007.
“Wholesale curricular review has produced experimentation and change at all levels of the curriculum, resulting in new programs and courses, new and enhanced experiential learning, and greater emphasis on various kinds of writing across the curriculum,” Carpenter said.
The vast majority of law schools — 87 percent — now offer at least one joint-degree program, with the J.D./MBA combination the most common.
While law school curricula have become more skills oriented, other areas have remained largely static. The survey found that the average number of credits hours required for graduation increased to 89 units in 2010, up from 88 one decade ago. Roughly the same number of schools reported requiring specific courses after the first year as they did in 2002, and subject matter tested by bar examinations appeared to play no role in course requirements, according to the survey.
The number of law schools that reported allowing 1L students to take electives increased from 14 in 2002 to 33 in 2010. Law schools have also increased their emphasis on legal research and writing, and have increased the number of course units offered.
Distance education options are also expanding, although fewer than half of law schools allow online course to count towards a J.D. Twenty-three percent of respondents reported offering synchronous courses — in which classes are taught online or via video in real time — up from 13 percent in 2002. Similarly, the number of schools offering asynchronous distance education classes, meaning that students complete them in their own schedules, went from 11 percent in 2002 to 25 percent in 2010.
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