In  September of 2008, the ABA’s Council of the  Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar Section (Council) began a comprehensive review of  the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools  relying on the work of the Standard’s Review Committee (SRC).   On October 9th, 2009, at the last of its currently scheduled meetings, the Council’s Standards Review Committee will be considering a proposal of the Student Learning Outcomes Subcommittee

It is worth a look at the ABA site to read the thoughtful and plentiful comments.  The Council’s comprehensive review may result in significant changes in how law schools are assessed and “incentivized” (I abhor that word but if fits here). Cogent comments from Law Librarians, the Institute for Law Teaching & Learning,  the AALS Clinical Section’s Clinical Skills Committee, CLEA and other individuals and organizations are listed . 

 On October 2nd, the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT)  submitted comments in response to the proposal, noting SALT’s long support of a shift in accreditation standards that would result in law schools consciously focusing on their students’ acquisition of the knowledge, skills and values needed for the practice of law.  SALT particularly applauded the inclusion of essential values and  the references in proposed 302(a) (3) to a “lawyer’s ethical responsibility” for the quality and availability of justice and in 305 to “law as a public profession calling for performance of pro bono legal services and public service activities.” 

Notably, on page 3 of the letter, SALT focuses on experiential learning and makes mention of the “important insights” of the Carnegie Report and Best Practices that “students learn best when they are performing real life lawyering tasks.”  The letter also encourages the Committee to provide clear Interpretations which encourage schools to provide multiple experiential learning opportunities which are “well-supervised” and “designed to encourage reflection” 

SALT’s letter is worth a read.  It is a broad-based group of diverse professors who teach both experientially and non-experientially and cannot be dismissed as representing just one group of teachers within academia.    Meanwhile, we wait to see how the Standards Review Committee responds on Friday.

One Response

  1. Originally posted at Clinicians with Not Enough to Do

    More comments on ABA experiential learning standards
    Submitted by Bob Seibel, Karen Tokarz and Peggy Maisel

    Learning Outcomes Subcommittee of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar’s Standards Review Committee

    Dear Subcommittee members,

    We understand that there is draft language under consideration for amended accreditation standard 302 (c) as follows:

    (c) A law school shall offer/require every student substantial opportunities for at least one learning experience in live-client clinics, field placements, simulations or other real-life practice experiences, appropriately supervised and designed to encourage reflection by
    students on their experiences and on the values and responsibilities of the legal profession, and the development of one’s ability to assess his or her performance and level of competence.

    We believe that the language should require every student to have at least one real life lawyering experience, and that simulations do not provide a comparable learning experience.

    Each of us has taught classroom, simulation, and clinical courses for more than 25 years. Professors Seibel and Tokarz are founding members and past presidents of the Clinical Legal Education Association. Tokarz also is past chair of the AALS Section on Legal Education, past member of the ABA Standards Review Committee, and past member of the ABA Accreditation Committee. Professor Maisel is a Board member of the Society of American Law Teachers.

    We are currently drafting a law review article that will address fully the reasons why we believe that every law student should be required to enroll in a course in which they perform in the role of a lawyer in real life situations before graduating from law school in order to be prepared as competent, ethical practitioners. We will share with you here briefly some of the points that we will elaborate on more fully in the article.

    First, as many observers and critics of the current state of most law school programs have noted, the weakest parts of law school curricula generally are those relating to professional skills and values. We believe that the only effective way to inculcate a fundamental understanding of the values of the profession is through actual participation and close observation of lawyers engaging in and meeting the demands of real legal work. Most often this learning occurs in the context of client representation, but might also occur in judicial chambers, legislative and administrative government offices, or even in non-government organizations that address policy issues related to the application of law. The key learning dynamic is that the student assumes the role of a lawyer in circumstances where the choices and decisions have real consequences, and then engages in guided reflection on those situations. This requires two essential activities—addressing real problems and reflecting. A well structured law school course would require reflection in ways that might not occur during paid internships, volunteer activities, or even post-graduation work experiences.

    Second, in addition to experiencing professional values in a real life setting before graduating, each student should learn explicitly about ways to learn effectively from experience. This skill set will enable lifelong learning from experience and substantially improve the quality of legal services delivered by these future lawyers. It also is likely to improve the quality of professional life experienced by students who have been so trained. A well structured law school course requires reflection and involves a faculty member who teaches students to learn effectively from their experiences.

    Third, although professional skills may be taught and practiced in simulation courses and settings, the ability to perform them effectively in real life situations is a very different learning experience. Anyone who has worked with clients and tried cases can attest to the difficult transition that occurs for both lawyers and witnesses when shifting from practice or rehearsal to the real world of a courtroom. The same occurs with interviewing, counseling, and other fundamental lawyering skills.

    Fourth, most of law school doctrinal (and simulation) courses involve the application of law to pre-set facts. Although some challenge can be added by varying the facts through hypotheticals in discussions, or through gradually revealing facts in simulations, the presentation of legal issues in the full context of real life pressures and considerations simply cannot be simulated. Law students need to comprehend and understand how to evaluate factual information and identify legal issues, and how to use their knowledge of law to guide the search for additional facts that may be relevant. They also need to understand that for clients and (even societal institutions) the resolution of a legal problem cannot be done without consideration of the myriad of factors that form the context of the problem.

    We strongly believe that the most effective way for a law school to ensure that these essential learning goals are accomplished is through a requirement that every law student engage in at least one real life lawyering course experience before graduation. We do not mean to suggest that simulations and other hybrid course experiences are not valuable. Indeed, we would say that ideally a student should have some such experience as a pre-requisite to real lawyering experience, but they are not substitutes.

    Thank you for your consideration of our views.


    Robert F. Seibel

    Visiting Professor

    California Western School of Law

    Karen Tokarz

    Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law & Public Service

    Washington University School of Law

    Peggy Maisel

    Associate Professor and Director of the Clinical Program

    Florida International University College

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