Keeping an experiential identity in bar passage reform

Much of the attention of legal educators nationally has been on bar results lately. Given the widespread decline in bar passage in recent years, that is a reasonable and appropriate trend. But in that response, law schools must be careful not to lose the other key parts of their identities in working to correct bar results. That includes continuing to emphasize the value of experiential learning.

ABA Standards 303 and 304 ensure that a baseline of experiential credits (six) will remain. But schools should not stop there: they should also continue to emphasize the value of experiential courses to students and explore ways to expand experiential opportunities as feasible. Yes, students need to be rigorously prepared for the bar exam. After all, many jobs in law are not attainable without passing a bar exam. But they also need to develop skills that the bar exam does not test but that are needed in practice including legal research, interpersonal skills, problem-solving generally, and many others.

Experiential courses often can help foster such skills. Though the bar exam does test and help build some core lawyering skills (like analysis, issue spotting, and critical reading), and bar reform efforts often promote further the development of these skills, the exam focuses heavily on memorization, especially in states without a performance exam component. Memorization prep is not an adequate foundation for successful lawyering.  If a school loses its identity by being consumed by its bar passage efforts, it might not encourage the full spectrum of goals a law school needs to nurture.

In short, a law school focusing (rightfully so) on bar passage must continue to grow as a law school in other ways too. And if a school did sacrifice its overall mission in the name of bar results, it would likely create other issues such as job placement and alumni disengagement problems. While offering the credits required by Standards 303 and 304 is a vital first step, it is an insufficient distance traveled towards serving law student development. We must prepare students both to pass the bar and to be a lawyer thereafter.

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