Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

A 21st Century “generalist legal education”? Skills & professional identity focused.

More musings on generalist v. specialist education, and how much doctrine law schools need to teach.

A conversation with one of our University of Washington alums — Leo Flor, Westpoint grad, Gates Public Service Law Scholar, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Northwest Justice Project, and spark plug for the new resource Representing Washington Veterans  — has me chewing on whether we need a new understanding of what a “generalist legal education” means.

Leo noted that the JD is often viewed as a relevant generalist credential, even though most law school grads move into traditional bar-passage-required “law practice” jobs.  And he observed that many job postings for alternative positions list an MBA or MPA as a relevant qualification, but not the JD.

The traditional generalist education of my era, and to a significant extent still, was intended to teach a set of analytical skills and and expose students to a broad range of legal doctrine potentially relevant to a general practitioner and to passing the bar exam. Though passing the bar remains important and is a significant factor in designing the educational program for lower tier schools, few 21st century lawyers are truly general practitioners.

Perhaps the generalist foundation needed in this era is built on skills, more than doctrinal knowledge.  And for Leo’s purpose not only skills in a technician sense.  Skills also in a “professional identity” sense.  Self-awareness & understanding of ones’ own gifts.  Leadership and interpersonal skills. Such an understanding of generalist could make the JD an appropriate credential for the types of job Leo described.

In a previous post, I suggested that that, at least for those students who come to law school with significant self-knowledge and experience, a substantively specialized curriculum could make sense, if combined with the general analytical and research skills to learn new areas.  This is not a new  idea.  Back in 2002 then-law-student Kevin E. Houchen self-published a detailed review of the trend toward certificate programs and concentrations, arguing that for a subset of students such specialization makes sense.

A decade later in 2012 the New York Times touted  NYU’s  limited moves toward greater specialization not just once, but again in an article  promoting specialization for law schools focused on Biglaw.

And in early May of this year 2015 at the National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services sponsored by the ABA and Stanford Law School, speakers reiterated these themes.   Richard Susskind (13:08) argued that legal education needs to train graduates for 21sth century jobs like legal project managers, legal process analysts, legal knowledge engineers, and legal risk management.  Prof. Deborah Rhode(13.29) observed that it “makes no sense to train Wall Street M &A lawyers the same way we train someone who’s going to be doing routine real estate and divorce work in a small town.”

It is not so very difficult to understand what acting on Prof. Rhode’s observation might mean.  As a practical matter, some curricular differentiation based on where graduates will practice already takes place, linked primarily to  different levels in the law school hierarchy.  Beyond that, many schools offer an extensive enough curriculum – both in doctrine and skills — to permit considerable specialization aimed at traditional law practice niches, even beyond formal concentration tracks and certificate programs.

For more specialized training law schools that offer extensive LL.M. programs routinely allow students to complete an accelerated JD/LL.M in three calendar years.  In the tax field, where the LL.M. has long been de rigueur, many schools provide such opportunities, including NYU, the long-time leader in tax LL.M’s.  And increasingly, schools educate students not just in substantive tax specialties, but also — using my own school, the University of Washington as an example — with  tax-focused skills and clinical training for both JD. and LL.M. students.

My hunch is that increasing numbers of students already opt to specialize, sometimes with a substantive law focus, often combined with a skills focus, e.g.  corporate deals with drafting or criminal & tort law with trial advocacy.

Richard Susskind’s challenge is a bigger stretch for legal education, though, again, some initiatives are visible, such as Michigan State‘s Reinvent Law Laboratory.

A key challenge for law schools is to learn how to identify prospective students or develop admitted ones who understand their life goals and values, and their intellectual and personal gifts well enough to make intelligent decisions around specialization.  To meet that  challenge, a holistic approach to education is needed –whether understood in the MacCrate framework of knowledge,  skills and values, or the Carnegie framework of cognitive, professional skills and ethical professional identity apprenticeships.


Less than a month ago, the New York State Courts circulated a proposal to change the New York State (NYS) Bar Exam by adopting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) along with a second, separately graded “New York Law Exam” segment consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions, tested for one hour on the second day of the exam.   The proposal would make the changes effective for all current graduating law students who face the bar exam in July 2015.    This past weekend, the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates unanimously opposed the proposed immediate changes,  sending a  message to the NYS Board of Law Examiners and to the New York Court of Appeals – do not bring the Uniform Bar Exam and a yet to be formulated or studied New York Exam to NYS in  July 2015.  Even more significantly, the House directed the State Bar President, based on an amendment from the floor,  to do everything possible to prevent immediate implementation of a new bar exam in New York.  

So, how did NYS get to the point where the Courts and the Bar are in such conflict over proposed changes to the bar exam?

For several years,  the NYS Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar Committee (LEAB)  (on which I have formerly served as an active member) has been studying how to improve the bar exam to make it fairer for all groups of test takers and more relevant to what graduates need to know, value and do in the early years of practice. See NYSBA Legal Education September2013Journal particularly page 31.  The Committee, through its chairs, has reached out to the NYS Board of Law Examiners and the Chief Justice about these matters without success.  The UBE was not one of the reform measures which LEAB proposed for further study or pilot projects.

Suddenly, and without notice to the NYSBA LEAB Committee,  co-chaired by  well-respected practitioner Eileen Millett and equally well-respected Touro Law Center Dean Patricia Salkin , the courts circulated and posted the following:


The New York State Board of Law Examiners has recommended to the New York Court of Appeals that the current bar examination be replaced with the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). The Court of Appeals is considering adopting the UBE for the administration of the July 2015 bar exam. On October 6, 2014, the Court of Appeals issued a Request for Public Comment on the proposal. Submissions will be accepted until November 7, 2014. A copy of the Request for Public Comment is available by clicking this link:   New York Court of Appeals Request for Comment

The proposal and request for comment document asserts that  “The UBE is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and passage of the test would produce a portable score that can be used to gain admission in other states that accept the UBE, provided the applicant satisfies any other jurisdiction-specific admission requirements. As the UBE is accepted by more states,the portable score will facilitate lawyer mobility across state lines, resulting in expanded employment opportunities for lawyers throughout the nation and facilitating multi-state law practices.”

Given the surprise announcement from the Court on October 6, 2014 of a 30-day comment period (open until this Friday, Nov. 7th) , the LEAB and its co-chairs  had only a matter of weeks to research, discuss and prepare a report for the State Bar Association about the implications of the proposed changes. The LEAB report 10-29-2014 (2) argues that it is simply too soon to discuss the merits of the Uniform Bar Exam and its potential impact on test takers in New York because of the surprise nature of the announcement along with absence of any study or report discussing a need, a cost-benefit analysis, or a discussion of whether there could be disparate impacts on minority test-takers.  LEAB is concerned about potential increase in costs for test-takers, impact on barriers to entry to the profession in New York, and impact on the New York job market.  LEAB  discussions emphasized that the practicing bar has been pressuring law schools to meet the demands of a changing market place including, among other things, producing more “practice ready” lawyers that would presumably include a richer knowledge of New York Law.  Impacts on foreign lawyers and other important issues for consideration were also raised.

On this past weekend, co-chairs Millett and Salkin presented their findings to the NYSBA House of Delegates.  The presentation to the State Bar can be viewed here (Click on the Nov. 1 House of Delegates Meeting and then click on the Report of the Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar)  Co-Chair Millett challenged the notion that the proposed reforms as outlined would actually result in  portability. Co-chair Salkin pointed out that the notion of “uniformity” seems misleading given that in NY many uniform rules are not used and that  current law school  courses focus on statutes different than those used by the UBE .   Significantly, three past presidents of the NYSBA testified against the proposed immediate changes including Steve Younger who emphasized the issues raised by New York’s special connection with international lawyers from around the globe admitted to practice  in New York State.  Many expressed concern for current students facing the July Bar, including Albany Law School Professor Michael Hutter who asked  “Why the Rush to Judgment?” Dean Patricia Salkin and Betty Lugo (President-elect of the Puerto Rican Bar Association founded in 1957) expressed particular concern that minority bar associations were not consulted, and that questions on the proposed brand new “New York Law Exam” component have never been tested on previous exams, a “best practice” for all standardized tests that are given as points of entry to higher education and the professions.

Why does this matter?

The contents, pass rates and disparate impacts of the bar exam matter tremendously .  This is our profession’s gatekeeping device.  It announces  what we value and what we do not value. It will be a make or break change for many law students starting in July who have prepared their course of study under different sets of expectations. For many schools and many students, bar exam subjects and testing methods determine their course curriculum rather than what they need to meet student learning outcomes or preparing for practice. This proposed change deserves further scrutiny and evaluation.  New Yorkers also deserve that the Court evaluate  the success of licensure practices which include clinical evaluation while in professional school as opposed to sole reliance on standardized testing.

See attached SALT Letter-NY Bar opposing the proposed changes.

My  Reaction to the Proposed Changes:


  • Should proposed changes result in a decrease in the number of doctrinal subjects tested on the NY Bar exam that will be an advantageous change both for making the bar exam more relevant and for allowing law schools and students to craft better curricular choices to prepare them for the jobs and careers of today and tomorrow.  (see earlier BLOG post on this issue here.)


  • The process for adopting the proposed change is too hasty and is unfair to current third year students and to second year students who have already planned three semesters around the exam.
  • The proposed changes have not been studied appropriately. For example, no one knows if the new format, particularly the 50 question NYS multiple choice format,  will exacerbate the already disparate impact on graduates of color and/or if it will create a separate barrier for admission to those who will make great lawyers but not particularly good standardized test-takers given the speededness/speediness factor – 50 multiple choice in one hour will make or break you on the NY part!
  •  The proposed format fails to address the critical need for bar licensure to include evaluation of actual, supervised, and  limited practice of law while in law school or immediately thereafter.  As a gateway to a client-centered, civic profession, evaluation of the limited supervised practice of law could and should replace – at least some part – of the current standardized testing.

NEW YORK LAWYERS, LAW STUDENTS  AND LAW PROFESSORS ACT NOW!  Comments due by this Friday November 7th.

Address comments to:

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.

Publishing “Building on Best Practices in Legal Education”

Regular readers of this blog know that a team of editors, authors and readers are hard at work on a follow up volume to Roy Stuckey (and others), Best Practices in Legal Education (2007), published by the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA).

I’m delighted to announce that the new volume, Building on Best Practices, expected out in early to mid-2015, will be published by Lexis. As a service to the legal education community, Lexis will make the book available to all law teachers for free through their Electronic Library. In addition, they state that they will do a print run of the book and provide copies for free on request.

Along with author Cynthia Batt, my co-editors Lisa Bliss and Carrie Kaas will be presenting on the book at this Friday’s New York Law School Clinical Theory Workshop, as I listen in eagerly from Seattle. If you’ll be in the area, please join the discussion. Contact Steve Ellman of NYLS for more information.

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.

Social Media and Law Schools (an introduction)

Want an introduction to social media?  Earlier this week, my colleague, Andrew Brandt, and I held a faculty workshop for our colleagues at Villanova Law about using social media to build our community and showcase our ideas. Here is a link to the powerpoint we created for the talk (although did not use).

Some of our colleagues asked me to follow up on how to use hashtags (#) and handles (@) on Twitter. I found this great one-pager,, on using Twitter that may be of interest to you all.

If you are on Twitter, please share your handles with this community so we can follow you. And if you want to follow me, I am @profpistone.


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