New Proposed AALS Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession 

Readers of this blog understand that we live in very interesting and challenging times.  Student applications to law schools have declined.  While legal jobs are gradually coming back from their low point during the Great Recession, it is likely that the legal profession will continue to engage in restructuring and will never be the same.  Student debt has climbed.  Bar examiners in individual states have gradually reduced cut scores and the National Conference of Bar Examiners has justified these steps based on declining LSAT scores.  At the same time, legal education is changing remarkably, with many more experiential opportunities and increasing attention to providing students with academic support.  The American Bar Association’s Section Council of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar has imposed increasingly stringent requirements on law schools.  Faculty hired during the “golden age” are retiring.  Law school budgets are shrinking.

Have we positioned ourselves as best as possible to understand and face these challenges?  Do we have the tools we need in our toolkits and are we using them as effectively as possible to understand and address related concerns?

When I served as one of the researchers for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s study on legal education (published as “Educating Lawyers” in 2007), I learned a great deal about the “scholarship of teaching and learning,” (http://josotl.indiana.edu/article/viewFile/1582/1581)  and how faculty members in various disciplines could bring to bear important empirical efforts to understand the challenges they face and carefully explore possible solutions.  I suspected that those within the legal academy would do more in this vein if they had further opportunities to develop relevant skill sets and to collaborate across institutions and professional roles.

We, as legal scholars and innovative professional staff, have begun to undertake important studies of key issues facing legal education and the legal profession.  But we have not done so systematically, and we have not had a very effective support structure to bring our best efforts to bear through skillful research grounded in empirical methods.  We also lack ready means to collaborate across the individual silos that separate administrators, podium faculty, clinicians, legal writing instructors, academic support professionals and admissions personnel.

We are getting close to building a stronger network of colleagues interested in taking up empirical research on legal education and the legal profession, through a newly proposed AALS Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession.  We’ve secured nearly twice as many signatures as required under AALS Bylaws and will be presenting a proposal for the AALS Executive Committee to consider at its upcoming July 2017 meeting.

Here are more details about the proposed Section’s focus, according to the petition being submitted to the AALS.

The subjects of concern to the section proposed include

Empirical studies of

  1. diverse aspects of legal education practices (including but not limited to studies using evidence-based methods to research effective teaching, educational program design, student learning, professional formation, continuing legal education, pre-legal education, paralegal education, and legal literacy);
  2. diverse aspects of legal education organizations and structures (such as academic support programs, institutional assessment methods);
  3. legal education admissions practices, bar examination frameworks, and other similar matters that affect access to justice;
  4. the attractiveness of law as a career, the role of law schools in social mobility, the career trajectories of law school graduates, and equality of opportunity for law school graduates; and
  5. the careers of law professors and others in the law school community, issues relating to equality of opportunity, and the shape of scholarly production;
  6. Methods for

a. fostering increased capacity among faculty and professional staff to engage in the empirical study of legal education; collaboration among subsets of faculty and professional staff with diverse responsibilities and expertise (including podium faculty, clinicians, legal writing faculty, academic support professionals, admissions and student affairs personnel, among others); and development of “good practices” based on collaboration among law schools; and

b. addressing ethical obligations including ethical issues in institutional research, using institutional research resources, interdisciplinary research collaborations.

Proposed programming and activities are proposed to include initiatives such as the following

  1. Offer annual meeting programming featuring topical presentations on key areas of empirical research on legal education, including both substantive topics and methodological sessions to assist researchers to develop increased capacity for such research
  2. Launch a newsletter and active listserv to foster communication of ideas, activities, research questions, research findings, and other matters relating to the empirical study of legal education;
  3. Create a widely-accessible digital archive of excellent articles involving empirical studies of legal education, chosen through a peer review process, as a means for recognition of high-quality work and dissemination of methods and findings
  4. Working with others, explore additional strategies and opportunities for developing relevant skills and expertise for those interested in engaging in the empirical study of legal education;
  5. Working with others, develop strategies for sharing and mining existing databases;
  6. Working with others, develop strategies for dissemination of research developments between distinct communities within legal education (such as podium faculty, clinicians, legal writing faculty, academic support, admissions, student affairs, and others), and between other areas of higher education and legal education

This post is meant to invite interested readers to follow and become involved in the work of the proposed new AALS section.  Please consider adding your name to our set of petitioners (even if you are getting to read this story after the initial cut-off date, we will submit additional signatures up until the Executive Committee meeting).  To do, submit the attached signature form [below] to Judith_wegner@unc.edu, so we can add you to the distribution list and tap your ideas going forward.

Petition for New Section Signature Form3

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you Judith for initiating this welcome and very much needed project! I think it is a brilliant idea to create a new AALS section for this new and fast moving time for legal education. I’ve signed on and encourage all our readers to do the same!

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