What constitutes “substantial opportunities”?

Recent posts discuss the proposed new Learning Outcomes implications for clinical offerings. There is concern about the move from the original language requiring “substantial instruction in professional skills” to requiring that “every student” complete “at least…one appropriately supervised learning experience” mandated in the proposed new Standard 303.

While others are debating the merits of this change, I’d like to raise a related issue discussed by some members of the AALS Pro Bono and Public Service Section.

The new standard preserves in 303(b) the “shall provide substantial opportunities” language for “live-client clinics or other real-life practice experiences” and “participation in pro bono legal services or law-related public service activities.” In the pro bono community, adding “shall” was a long fought battle won. However, we have questions about how “substantial opportunities” is being interpreted and applied.

On its face, the language is vague. Does it mean enough opportunities to meet student demand? Is “substantial” enough slots to engage a majority of the student body? Annually, or over the course of their three years?

We are interested in learning from those of you who have had an ABA site visit since the “shall offer substantial opportunities for…live-client or other real-life practice experiences…student participation in pro bono…” was adopted in the current Standard 302.

The Report Format Memo given to site teams during ABA accreditation visits: Pro Bono Opportunities [S 302(b)(2); I 302-10] says only:

“Describe how the law school encourages its students to participate in pro bono activities and provides substantial opportunities for them to do so.”

In other words, little guidance is given to what “substantial opportunities” means in practice. While your anecdotal stories about the application of the language will be illuminating to the pro bono community, it may also shed some light on the current debate about the proposed new language as it applies to clinics and field placements as well.

Thanks in advance for sharing – on the blog, or privately to karen@lash.us or OGILVY@law.cua.edu — your experience with an ABA site visit, or any other experience that would help us understand how “substantial opportunities” is being interpreted.

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