Practical-Skills Requirement Up For Debate
Uncertain over the direction that the legal profession and education system will go, a debate rages that could influence that direction in California. The California State Bar has a proposed plan to require all lawyers to have at least 15 credit hours of practical training. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a necessary step in making lawyers more competent and practice-ready or an unnecessary restriction.
The Association of American Law Schools is split. A group of law school deans is opposed and another group of clinical professors are supporting the proposal. According to reports from The National Law Journal, the association’s Section of Clinical Legal Education—comprised of hundreds of clinical professors—released a statement last week saying it “encourages the integration of 21st century lawyering skills into the core of legal education, presents a significant opportunity to better prepare students to meet the demands of clients upon admission to the bar.”
However, the association’s Dean’s Steering Committee wrote to the bar saying the proposal would hinder innovation, limit students to certain courses, and begin to create a “patchwork” of state requirements. Nevertheless, California bar officials have already signed off on the plan and are awaiting final approval from the California Supreme Court.
The 15 required hours could be met by clinics, externships, clerkships, and legal work in a law office. The proposal would also require lawyers to complete 50 hours of pro bono or reduced fee legal work during law school or before the end of their first year of practice. Finally, the proposal requires 10 hours of mentorship or continuing education to be completed within their first year of practicing.
The clinician’s statement contends that students want the changes, based on surveys, and the changes wouldn’t be that dramatic anyway. However, they concede that the new requirement will take time. “As with any new undertaking, there will be a period of adjustment as schools being to grapple with both the new ABA requirements and well as state requirements like those proposed by [the state bar],” the clinicians wrote.
But the deans say there could be many unintended consequences of such measures. The main example they give is restricting or at least putting up barriers for lawyers from other states wanting to move to practice in California. It is currently unknown when California’s Supreme Court will rule on the matter.
Source: The National Law Journal
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