Council on Legal Education Maintains Tenure and 405, Adds Requirement of Six Experiential Credits and Calls for Notice and Comment on Paid Externships

The ABA Council of the Section on Legal Education met in San Diego on March 14th and 15th  and voted on the final recommendations of the Standards Review Committee’s (SRC’s) comprehensive review of the standards begun in 2008. ( See earlier discussions here and here and here). I report on some but not all of this past weekend’s work.

On the controversial SRC recommendations on faculty tenure, security of position and academic freedom, the Council voted down both alternatives to the current standards, thus retaining the current system of tenure and security of position pursuant to ABA Standard 405. This is a victory for those who support tenure and security of position as the key to ensuring academic freedom, as I do. Council members acknowledged that the current standards are imperfect.  For example, current standards unfairly institutionalize hierarchies within faculty that are inconsistent with innovation and preparing students for the profession, particularly with respect to our Legal Writing and Lawyering colleagues.  This and other issues will be left for the next comprehensive review.

On the competing proposals to require experiential learning for all students, the Council voted to require six credits, rejecting an alternative proposal for 15 credits.  This is a very small step in the right direction but at least it is a step.  The approved ABA standard approved by the Council reads as follows:

“one or more experiential course(s) totaling at least six credit hours. An experiential course must be a simulation course, a law clinic, or a field placement. To satisfy this requirement, a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must:

(i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in
performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard

(ii) develop the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught;
(iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and
(iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.”

As to proposals concerning student pro bono hours, the Council adopted 50 hours as an “aspirational” goal,  thus rejecting an hourly requirement such as that imposed by the New York Court of Appeals for admission to the bar in New York.   With respect to inclusion of LGBT law students and law students with disabilities, the Council rejected proposals for affirmative inclusion, relying on general non-discrimination language.

Finally, the Council voted to send out for Notice and Comment a proposal to permit students to receive academic credit for paid externships. The Council is expected to vote on this proposal at its June meeting. As I discussed in an earlier post, this proposed change is fraught with difficulties and real risks. Those interested in this issue should think about information that  needs to be conveyed to the Council and watch the ABA website for posting of the time frame for Notice and Comment. I will be following closely and will announce what I learn on this blog.  The ABA House of Delegates is scheduled to vote on the proposed revised standards at their August meeting.

5 Responses

  1. I find that the move to accept academic credit for paid externships is a good one. It’ll surely help a lot of students.

  2. Thanks Gina for your input! If entities really do pay students for doing legal work, I probably agree. But I’m not sure experience with employers and law students shows that students will be getting paid to learn and do appropriate legal work. That’s why I welcome input from folks who have experiences in field placements and externships and career planning as well as employers who believe they would be willing to pay students to do real legal work and provide them the appropriate supervision and feedback so that it counts for academic credit. My sense is that especially since the recession hit, employers want free labor or someone to do grunt/non lawyer work for minimum pay. That’s why I think a law school has the obligation to demand more from supervisors when placements take on students. Students need to put real activities and skills and experiences on their resume and they need letters of recommendation from folks who can really evaluate their competency to practice law, exercise judgment, and problem solve.
    I have many questions. I wonder how many students have a problem taking paid employment because of credit loads? That would be good information. I wonder whether this is really a benefit to students or this just at first glance seems like a benefit? For example, my colleagues and I experienced a situation where a government office wanted to throw a student into a night court situation with no direct supervision and little oversight. We said that was inappropriate and worried about the student making fatal mistakes that would haunt the student and not learn how to really practice ethically and appropriately. The organization temporarily paid a student to “cover” and of course the paid student was thrilled but totally unaware of what a poor job s/he was doing. That doesn’t feel good for students to me. Is there a middle ground here? Is this an either or situation?

    I am very sympathetic to law students desire to decrease debt load and to double dip by using paid employment as the equivalent of a credit based course but I think we need to proceed very carefully lest we do more harm than good.

  3. Thanks for the news. Mary.

    I share your concerns about how the paid externship will work. Of course students can learn from paid work, but the supervisory requirements of externship are pretty stringent as is, and it’s hard for me to imagine that providers of either jobs or quality externships will take on the additional burdening of (respectively) providing appropriate supervision and documentation of it or paying people.

    My holy grail in this is competency-based assessment, where we won’t care where people got the skills, but we do determine that they have them before they graduate.

  4. The council meeting was in San Diego, not San Francisco.

  5. THank you! I will correct that! like Tony Bennett I keep having san francisco on my mind!

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