SRC voted to eliminate Interpretation 305-3 which distinguishes paid employment from academic field placements

American Bar Association Accreditation Standard 305  addresses “study outside the classroom” and, in particular, field placement courses.  Interpretation 305-3 states:

A law school may not grant credit to a student for participation in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation. This Interpretation does not preclude reimbursement of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses related to the field placement.

The written submission by the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) filed January 31, 2014 (found here or on ABA site) argues

To revoke this regulation would give employers in paid field placements significantly more power both to control student work and to minimize the employer’s supervisory role, and would significantly reduce externship faculty control over the educational benefit of the placement.

This is a real concern. When I directed Albany’s field placement program, I often had to discuss with supervisors the difference between their treatment of academic interns and paid clerks. For example, throwing an inexperienced student into night court without direct attorney supervision may free up the evening of the harried assistant public defender or assistant prosecutor but it fails to teach the intern the constitutional way to practice law. And, if you pay the interns you may well be entitled to assign them to pick up your dry cleaning or walk your dog because your time is more valuable, however those activities are hardly educational. These were actual issues I addressed and was able to resolve in favor of the students educational experience because the employer had no money in the pot and needed to follow the requirements of the law school. That leverage will be undercut if interpretation 305(3) is removed.

I also agree with CLEA’s position that

……nothing suggests that field placement courses are displacing a large volume of paid part-time work for law students. To the contrary, pervasive anecdotal evidence suggests that employers are unable to pay and would prefer that students work without pay. Field placement directors (and placement offices) routinely field requests from employers who seek to offer unpaid work through a field placement experience. Nothing suggests an increased demand by employers to pay students who are also getting credit.

If anything, during difficult economic times, law students need the negotiating power of an experienced attorney and faculty member even more, since they are more vulnerable to exploitation by employers. I urge the Council to keep Interpretation 305 (3) in place to protect the educational quality of field placements. As discussed in another earlier post, during Thursday’s public hearing before Council members, Interpretation 305 (3) was discussed, including the applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act, possible exploitation of students, and the problem of differing expectations regarding treatment of paid and unpaid interns. These issues are complicated and deserve further attention. With the SRC members deciding to complete the comprehensive review at the February meeting and leave issues which need more data and input for another day, it was surprising, in my opinion, to observe them move so quickly on the proposal to remove 305-3 without a more informed vetting of the issues.

Disclosure: I was recently elected co-vice president of CLEA. However, I was not responsible for the CLEA position letter on this interpretation. When writing on this blog, I do not represent CLEA.

Quite Moving but Frightening Testimony at AALS Conference

I write from the Hilton Hotel in New York City where the American Association of Law School annual conference has just ended.   The most memorable and riveting session I attended was the ABA panel presentation on proposed revisions to accreditation standards,   I knew full well that this would be an intense session and blogged about the dangers of these proposed revisions earlier in the year  here. .  The proposed revisions will change dramatically what I consider an essential facet of legal education:   the ability to acknowledge, discuss, debate, theorize,and write about  issues that are unpopular.  It will also prevent law faculty from teaching about and working with students representing clients on issues which are unpopular.   I knew this discussion would be intense but I was not prepared for  the stories of our brave peers in the academy which reinforced for me the fundamental importance of academic freedom supported by tenure or security of position.

One professor who self-identified as a female American who is Muslim reported  that she received death threats at work for appearing at a Department of Justice panel on National Security and Muslim issues.   She noted that without tenure and academic freedom, she would be at risk for firing for doing no more than accurately describing the national security legal issues.  She also eloquently explained that as a young, female professor of Muslim religious and cultural identity, she was vulnerable for receiving student pushback and bias for her assuming the position of power and authority over students.  Without academic freedom secured by tenure,  she would fear student bias in evaluations or impressions which could threaten her job security because of her Muslim identity.   A white woman who  taught at a religious school in the deep south,  movingly described her experiences. Without academic freedom supported by tenure, she found that  just raising legitimate legal issues and cases regarding property, same sex marriage, second amendment law, domestic violence or other issues could put her at risk of losing her job.  Had she not been supported by a tenure system which requires “cause” not popularity as measured by teaching evaluations or other factors, her personal and financial incentive would encourage her to avoid  teaching  important legal questions  for fear of back”pushback” .  Professor Terry Smith of Depaul College of Law presented remarks on behalf of the minority law professors section whose members attended in great numbers.  I share with you  his statement here (ABA Statement 1 4 13 ) Another member of the minority law professors section, Professor Anthony Farley,  cautioned that these issues are not “speculative” and spoke about ongoing attacks on academic  freedom, faculty governance, tenure and security of position at a particular school.  Other faculty members discussed how its hard to teach constitutional law in this country without mentioning race but that faculty who do not have security of position will find it difficult because when race is mentioned in a classroom, faculty inevitably suffer in teaching evaluations by students who are uncomfortable talking about race.

Professor Kate Kruse, past president of the Clinical Legal Education Section  noted that for many clinicians academic freedom has only been made real by the current ABA  standard 405 (c) and the  proposed revisions make no attempt to provide a “safe harbor” for the majority of clinicians and legal writing professors who also need to enjoy academic freedom.  There was some discussion by panelists and audience members about an earlier proposal which would have eliminated the hierarchical status types among faculty and questions about why that proposal was never presented for notice and comment.  See earlier blog discussion of the proposals. Past President of the AALS Clinical Section and Fordham Law’s Professor Elizabeth Cooper noted how tenured clinicians are  often asked by untenured  clinical colleagues to make points at public meetings that they are unable to make for fear of impact on their continued employment.

Members of the panel thanked those who testified for good reminders about the negative and practical consequences of these revisions. The Chair of the Council on Legal Education, attended and wanted the audience members to know that he had listened carefully to the concerns.  Past President of the AALS, Professor Leo Martinez and panel members urged  all interested parties to submit written  comments about this controversial proposed revisions on the ABA website found here.

Is the declining law school enrollment bottoming out?

Some interesting analysis from the ABA journal:

….figures suggest that enrollments are coming closer to matching the Bureau of Labor Statistics job projections, which project that the economy can absorb about 22,000 new lawyers a year through the year 2020. That’s good for prospective students, he says, who will have more reason to think that a law degree will translate into the career they intended. The decline in enrollments also creates revenue pressures that will force law schools to look for ways to provide a more affordable legal education.

On the negative side, the enrollment figures are still 20 to 25 percent higher than the projected market for new jobs requiring or preferring a law degree, he says. And other data suggests that some schools are maintaining enrollments as high as they are by accepting students with lesser credentials, which could have negative long-term implications for the legal profession.

David Yellen, dean of Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, says while the figures are not surprising, it is “still kind of stunning” to think that law school enrollments have declined nearly 25 percent in three years. “The last time fewer than 40,000 students were enrolled in law school was in 1977,” he says.

Yellen also says that while he thinks 52,000 new law school enrollees a year is too many, we’re now at the point where we might want to ask whether the market correction has gone too far and is being driven as much by negative publicity as anything else (emphasis added).

However, new applications are projected to be down another 10 to 15 percent in the coming year, he says, “so we’re definitely not at the bottom of the cycle yet.”

The enrollment figures come from the questionnaires that ABA-approved law schools file annually with the section. Over the next several months, the section plans to publish more reports about the data, including school-specific information, which will also be posted on the statistics page of the section’s website.

Last updated Dec. 19 to include enrollment figures from 1975.

ABA COUNCIL CALLS FOR NOTICE AND COMMENT ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO LEGAL EDUCATION

The ABA Council on Legal Education posted for Notice and Comment significant changes to the accreditation standards relating to the program of legal education, mandatory institution of an outcomes and assessment regime, and the status of and retention of faculty. Many of these proposed changes have been discussed in earlier posts in this BLOG for going on four years. I have copied here the memorandum discussing the notice and comment. WHAT SAY OUR READERS???

MEMORANDUM

TO: Interested Persons and Entities

FROM: The Hon. Solomon Oliver, Jr., Council Chairperson
Barry A. Currier, Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education

DATE: September 6, 2013

SUBJECT: Comprehensive Review of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law School Matters for Notice and Comment

At its meeting held on August 8-9, 2013, the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved for Notice and Comment proposed revisions to Chapter 1 [General Purposes and Practices], Chapter 3 [Program of Legal Education], Chapter 4 [The Faculty], Standard 203(b) [Dean], and Standard 603(d) [Director of the Law Library] of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

The Standards Review Committee of the Section has been conducting a comprehensive review of the Standards. As part of that review, the Committee considered multiple drafts and received informal comments from many interested persons and entities.

The proposed revisions and accompanying explanations are attached below and published on the Section’s website:

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/notice_and_comment.html.

We solicit and encourage written comments on the proposed changes by letter or e-mail. Written comments should be submitted no later than Friday, January 31, 2014.

Hearings on these proposed changes are scheduled for October 2013 and February 2014 (details below). Both hearings will be held at the American Bar Association, 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654.

October 21-22, 2013
Monday, October 21st, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, October 22nd, 9 a.m.

February 5-6, 2014
Wednesday, February 5th, 1 p.m.
Thursday, February 6th, 9 a.m.

Please address written comments on the proposal and requests to speak at the hearing to JR Clark, jr.clark@americanbar.org.

Thank you.

Barry A. Currier
Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
American Bar Association
321 N. Clark Street, 21st Floor
Chicago, IL 60654-7958

ABA COUNCIL ELIMINATES ANY MEANINGFUL SECURITY OF POSITION FOR FACULTY AND TURNS ITS BACK ON EXPERIENTIAL FACULTY

As reported last week here, the ABA Council on Legal Education met in San Francisco to review proposed revisions to law school accreditation standards.  The ABA reviewed four proposals sent to them by the Standards Review Committee (which I described in an earlier post here) and which were intended to address  faculty competence, academic freedom and governance rights.   The Council sent out for notice and comment two of the four proposals. Some commentators have suggested that one of the adopted proposals includes some security of position and the other does not. However, a closer look suggests that neither proposal affords any meaningful security of position.  see National Law Journal  

The alternative that mentions security of position states that:

(d) A law school shall afford all full-time faculty members a form of security of position sufficient to ensure academic freedom and attraction and retention of a competent full-time faculty (emphasis added).”

At first glance, I optimistically thought “Maybe ensuring a competent full-time faculty would require something beyond at-will employment?” However,  I was reminded by a professional colleague that this proposal is identical to the current provision for legal writing professors, which has been interpreted to permit at-will contracts as long as the teachers are “competent,”  Undeterred in my optimism, I thought “Well ensuring academic freedom certainly needs to ensure some job security especially for folks like clinicians who have been attacked repeatedly for representing the powerless against the moneyed members of our society, right?”  However,  the ABA interprets that same language  in the clinical context to permit one-year renewable contracts,  as long as the institution has a “policy” on academic freedom,

As Amy Poehler would say “Really!1?!  Really!?!”    Is that really the kind of job security that will fill you with confidence in advocating  on behalf of seemingly powerless clinic clients or articulating unpopular but important legal positions?   And what about all this talk from the ABA and the profession about how students need to be better prepared for practice and the profession.   “Really!1?!  Really!?!”  How is that going to happen when you de-value those in the academy who teach through supervised practice ?   CLEA President Kate Kruse got it spot on when she wrote on the clinic listserv,

“Because tenure is now and is likely to remain the norm only for doctrine professors, both of these provisions protect current faculty power relationships and threaten the presence in legal education of teachers specializing in experiential education.’

That is not good news for legal education, law students or future clients.  REALLY.

ABA Council Meeting — Final Vote on Accred Standards

Here is the final recap of yesterday’s vote by ABA Council on accreditation standards:

The most significant of the proposed changes would involve job protections for full-time faculty members. The council, following a lengthy debate, voted to send out two alternatives to the current standard, which is widely understood to require tenure or a comparable form of security of position for all full-time faculty members, except for clinical professors and legal writing instructors.

The first alternative, favored by a narrow plurality of council members, would require law schools to provide some form of security of position (short of tenure) to all full-time faculty members, including clinical professors and legal writing instructors. The other, which was a close second, would not require any form of security of position for anybody, but would require law schools to have policies and procedures in place to attract and retain a competent full-time faculty and to protect academic freedom.

Following the notice and comment period, the council plans to choose one of the two alternatives–or a variation–for final approval. It has also agreed to postpone final approval of any changes in the standards until the standards review committee completes its proposed overhaul of the standards.

Other tentative changes approved by the council Friday would increase the experiential learning requirement in the standards from one credit hour to six credit hours; increase the amount of credits law students may receive from distance learning courses from 12 to 15; and eliminate the current requirement that the student/faculty ratio be considered in determining whether a school is in compliance with the standards.

taken from this ABA article: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/legal_ed_section_council_advances_three_more_chapters_of_proposed_changes_i/

ABA Council Meeting — up to minute updates

As you know, the ABA Council is meeting today in San Fran to discuss the accreditation standards.  If you want up to the minute reporting, Dean Paul McGreal, from Dayton, is tweeting on it and also providing more detailed commentary on the LinkedIn group:  Legal Education and Law Schools.  

 
By the way, it sounds like Section 3 (The Program of Legal Education) is on the agenda for this afternoon.  Kate Kruse should be presenting comments on behalf of CLEA later today as well.

CLEA calls on ABA to require 15 credits of experiential learning

Kate Kruse, President of the Clinical Legal Education Association, reports that CLEA called on the ABA Council on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar to expand accreditation requirements to include 15 credits in experiential learning.  

Today, the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the nation’s largest association of law professors, formally petitioned Council of the American Bar Association’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to amend its law school accreditation standards to require every J.D. law student to complete the equivalent of at least 15 semester credit hours after the first year of law school in practice-based, experiential courses, such as law clinics, field placements, or skills simulation courses, with at least one course in a law clinic or externship. 

Repeated ABA studies have shown the need to enhance significantly the professional skills training of students in law schools. However, the Section has done very little to address these persistent calls for reform. Current law school accreditation standards only require a single credit of experiential learning out of an average of 89 total academic credits, a dismal 1% of a law student’s preparation for practice. Other professions (such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, veterinary, social work, etc.) require that at least one quarter, and up to more than one half, of a graduate’s pre-licensing education be in role in supervised professional practice.

CLEA contends that the present standards do not adequately prepare students for the practice of law and that 15 hours of professional experience (representing about one-sixth of a student’s total credit hours) are certainly the minimum necessary to ensure that law school graduates are competent to begin practicing law. Concerned that the ABA was not doing enough, the California State Bar Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform recently proposed a similar pre-admission practical skills training program for all law students seeking admission to the California bar.  CLEA’s proposed amendment, filed under Rule 803(d) of the ABA Rules of Procedure for Approving Law Schools, requires the ABA to formally refer the request to committee and report back with a recommendation regarding the proposal.

-Kate Kruse

CLEA President

ABA President Concerned for Unpaid Interns

In late May, president of the American Bar Association (ABA) Laurel Bellows sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor expressing the ABA’s concerns about the uncertainty regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) treatment of pro bono activities and the opportunities these activities present to students. Essentially, the ABA is concerned that ambiguities in the FLSA will inhibit legal employers from hiring unpaid interns and result in fewer opportunities for students to gain experience and build their resumes.

The internships that the ABA expects would be exempt from the FLSA are limited to positions for law students, graduated students who have yet to take the bar, and graduated students who have taken the bar and are awaiting the bar results. In addition to placement with nonprofit organizations and government agencies, the ABA expects that law schools would also like to place their students with for-profit law firms (including corporate legal offices) to work on pro bono matters to advance and expand the education of the students.

The type of work would be limited to pro bono projects, or projects for which the employer would not be expecting compensation; the ABA intimates that each law school would act as intermediary between interns and their employers. Precluding internships solely to paid positions would, according to the ABA, make these positions undesirable to employers; students would lose the opportunity to work with experienced lawyers before passing the bar. On the other hand, the ABA’s stance may be a bit short-sighted. Legal employers could always have a need for interns, and requiring employers to pay their interns fairly may not be prohibitive.

As a prospective law graduate myself, I can understand both sides of the argument. One of my greatest concerns is my burgeoning need for a paid position due to my ever-increasing debt; but, I realize that employers are simply more likely to hire unpaid interns because the market is hard enough as it is (and their costs would be minimal). To be competitive, it is no longer enough for a student to perform well in classes; a competitive student will have actual experience with the practice of law.

It will be interesting to see how the uncertainty regarding the FLSA pans out–which is more important: the need for students to possess practical experience or protecting legal interns from abusive employment practices?

You can find the full letter here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/144691085/ABA-Letter-to-Dept-of-Labor-Legality-of-Unpaid-Interns

ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education

The Task Force on the Future of Legal Education held a mini-conference on Wednesday.  Karen Sloan wrote an overview of the conference, ABA Struggles for Answers on Law School Reform.  An overview of the Task Force’s discussion items (from its Dec meeting) is available here.  That document focuses a lot on innovation.  Here is an excerpt:

Law Schools and Others in Legal Education Should Promote Innovation in Pedagogy

1. Law schools and law faculties should make use of knowledge and experience from other disciplines to support innovation in teaching methodologies.

2. Law schools should make use of technology in to innovate and improve pedagogy.

3. Law schools and law faculties should collaborate to facilitate innovation and improvement of pedagogy.

4. Bar admission authorities should recognize law school courses taught by innovative pedagogy.

A (long) video of the mini-conference is available here.

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