From left, former New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, University of New Hampshire School of Law professor John Burwell Garvey, New York University professor Robert Lapiner and New York State Board of Law Examiners chairwoman Diane Bosse discuss the future of legal education during a convocation at Pace Law School in White Plains.
From left, former New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, University of New Hampshire School of Law professor John Burwell Garvey, New York University professor Robert Lapiner and New York State Board of Law Examiners chairwoman Diane Bosse discuss the future of legal education during a convocation at Pace Law School in White Plains. (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)

WHITE PLAINS – Leaders from the New York state bench, bar and legal academy gathered at Pace Law School on Thursday for the latest in a series of national and statewide conversations about how the legal community should respond to changing times for the nation’s law schools.

The daylong convocation, hosted by the Judicial Institute on Professionalism in the Law and the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, included topics such as how to give students more practical information, how to reduce law school tuition and operating costs, and when to teach professional values.

But making legal education more relevant to the practice of law must address two additional problems: access to justice for people who cannot afford a lawyer and the need to create new kinds of employment for lawyers as the market for traditional jobs declines, according to American Bar Association president James Silkenat, a partner at New York’s Sullivan & Worcester.

“These things are a package now,” he said in an interview. “They’re all linked.”

Several speakers criticized proposals to reduce law school to two years from three, an idea that President Barack Obama endorsed in a speech in New York last August.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is the proposal’s latest high-profile critic. In a May 11 commencement address at the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law, he said a two-year program “rests on the premise that law school is—or ought to be—a trade school. It is not that. It is a school preparing men and women not for a trade but for a profession—the profession of law.”

In a speech Thursday morning, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman expressed a similar sentiment.

“I don’t agree with the president, respectfully,” he said. “My view is that we have to enrich and make the three years of legal education as meaningful as possible.”

To do that, Lippman said, law schools must teach the “values of the profession combined with practical experience.”

How best to teach those values while giving students practical experience is the question. Panelists heaped praise on law schools’ new clinical offerings, externships and “incubator” programs that help new graduates start their own solo or small firms.

But other ideas are hitting road blocks because of American Bar Association standards for law school accreditation, several panelists said. Schools are restricted, for example, in how much online teaching they can offer because of ABA requirements on the number of in-classroom minutes required to obtain a J.D.

“I would argue there’s an ABA rule standing in the way of experiential learning,” said Proskauer Rose partner Michael Cardozo, a former New York City corporate counsel, referring to a rule prohibiting schools from granting academic credit for certain types of legal internships. “I think there’s a fundamental need for the ABA to make a major change in this area.”

Panelist Diane Bosse, chair of the New York State Board of Law Examiners and immediate past chair of the ABA committee that accredits law schools, said the ABA is now accepting public comment for a possible revision to that rule.

“Well how long does it take to get from proposal to implementation?” asked Cardozo, who recently served on a City Bar task force on legal education.

“They’ve been looking into changing the rule for a very long time,” Bosse replied.

“That’s my point,” he said.

In a panel on instilling professional values in soon-to-be J.D.s, speakers seemed to agree skills such as good judgment and fidelity to clients can only be learned through real-world experience—underscoring the need for adjunct professors, who deal with clients daily and can teach those values better, said Myra Berman, associate dean for experiential learning at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center.

But James Wicks, a commercial litigator for Farrell Fritz and adjunct professor at St. John’s University School of Law, suggested that traits associated with professionalism are often innate.

“I can’t teach integrity, for example,” Wicks said. “I can teach client skills. But some of this is character traits. That can’t be taught.”