“This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
T.S. Eliot could’ve easily been writing about law school reform. For the past year, debate has raged over proposals covering tenure, accreditation, and field study pay. On Monday (August 11), the ABA’s House of Delegates quietly wrapped up a six-year effort, passing all but two provisions before it.
For students seeking practical experience, the reforms will be a welcome relief. Law curriculum will now require, at minimum, six hours of clinical or experiential coursework. To accommodate distance learners, schools can accept 15 credit hours of online courses, up from 12 credits. In addition, the house removed the rule that prohibited students from working more than 20 hours during law school.
However, a push by law students to receive credit for paid field placement programs has been tabled for now. While students argued that compensation would help alleviate law school debt, critics countered that it could open up the possibility of employer abuse. “What happens when the boss comes in and says, ‘You need to work for the next 24 hours?’” warned Pauline Schneider of the ABA’s Council of the Section on Legal Education. “When we’re in law school, we should be there to learn.”
For law schools, accreditation standards will shift, as the ABA will place greater emphasis on outcomes like bar exam passage and placement rates and less on incoming student scores and support services. The house also accepted a measure where up to 10% of an incoming law class can forego the LSAT.
The only real disagreement arose over a statement requiring law schools to demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion through “concrete action.” Critics argued that the statement, which only specified “gender, race and ethnicity,” should also include “disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.” Due to the privacy issues inherent to the latter, the original diversity statement was passed, with the additional wording sent for further study.
Moreover, the ABA decided not to tinker with the current faculty tenure system. Law schools will also maintain three-year programs, despite some sentiment for reducing them to two.
The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar oversees law schools on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. The Legal Education Section conducts a review of ABA rules every 10 years, with the next round of reforms expected to focus heavily on law school tuition and debt.