A Sneaky Peek at CSALE 2019-20: Clinical Law Faculty and Their Courses – by Robert R. Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

The Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE) is in the final weeks of collecting data for its 2019-20 tri-annual survey of clinical legal education.

The CSALE Master Survey was completed in the fall by over 94% of law schools; the follow up CSALE Sub-Survey was sent earlier this year to almost 2,000 law clinic and externship instructors. The ongoing Sub-Survey collects information on each instructor’s position and courses and will remain open for additional respondents until the end of May. CSALE will publish a detailed report on the 2019-20 survey, its fifth, in late summer, available with prior reports on its website.

But there’s no need to wait. Some of the data in the CSALE Master Survey is available now, and it shows both stability and change in clinical legal education. Relatively unchanged was the number of law clinics, with schools reporting 1,521 clinics, a median of 7 per school, unchanged over the last three surveys. Six schools offer no law clinics and three offer just one, while seven schools reported more than 20. There are some significant changes in the substantive focus of clinics. The most common now is Immigration (displacing Criminal Defense), offered at 63% of schools, a 34% increase in just three years. Intellectual Property clinics also greatly increased in number (at 35% of schools, up 50% from the last survey), as did Entrepreneur/Small Business (now at 36% of schools).

Student demand for law clinics is up slightly from CSALE’s 2016-17 survey, perhaps reflecting the new ABA six-credit experiential coursework graduation requirement. At 46% of schools, student demand for clinics increased over the past three years (compared to 38% in the last survey), while at only 10% did demand decrease (19% in last survey). In contrast, in the 2010-11 CSALE survey, 80% of schools experienced increased law clinic demand, while only 1% reported a decrease. The most common reasons given for decreased demand in the current survey were the school’s smaller student body and the students’ belief they should spent their time on bar subject courses.

With externships, criminal (prosecution and/or defense), government, judicial, and public interest law offices continue to be the most common types of field placement practice areas offered to students. A majority of placements continue to be in litigation or dispute resolution practice. At nine schools, 90% or more of placements are litigation/dispute resolution focused, while over 80 schools place less than 10% of their students in transaction-focused offices.

Similar to the last CSALE survey, over half of schools now allow students to receive more than 10 credits in a field placement course, with almost all of those schools (98%) permitting “full-time placements” outside the vicinity of the law school. Fewer than one quarter of schools permit students to extern with a law firm. And while 45% of schools prohibit placements at in-house counsel offices of for-profit entities, only four schools prohibit placements at not-for-profit entities. Compensation (paid externships) without conditions or limits, such as from law firms or for-profit corporations, is only offered at 17% of schools:

CompensationPercentage of Schools
Permitted, no conditions17%
Permitted, with conditions(e.g., source other than placement site)19%
Not Permitted64%

Demand for field placement courses is up slightly – 47% of schools report increased demand over the past three years (compared to 42% in the prior survey) – with decreased demand down from 15% of schools three years ago to just 7% in the current survey. Like law clinics, demand for field placement courses peaked in the 2010-11 survey when 76% of school reported increased demand and only 1% reported a decrease.

Looking at faculty changes, schools reported a median of 12 persons teaching in a law clinic or field placement course, full- or part-time, including adjuncts, staff attorneys, fellows, etc. This is up slightly from 11 per school in the last two CSALE surveys. The percentage of clinic and externship courses taught by full-time clinical faculty, however, continues to decrease. During this academic year, 65% of clinical teachers were full time, down from 72% full time in 2016-17, 78% in 2013-14, and 82% in 2010-11.

The status of those teaching full-time shows slightly more clinical teachers (law clinic and externship) on contract and somewhat fewer on some form of tenure (combining traditional and clinical tenure) – dropping to 29% after 35% in the three prior surveys:

Employment StatusCSALE  2010-11CSALE  2013-14CSALE  2016-17CSALE 2019-20
Contractual Appointment52%54%53%56%
Tenured/Tenure Track26%27%25%21%
Clinical Tenured/Clinical TT9%8%10%8%
Non-Adjunct At Will4%3%____
Administrator –w/ or w/out Faculty Title5%__

One third of all clinical faculty are on long-term, presumptively renewable contracts (or on short-term contracts leading to long-term renewable contracts), down slightly from the last two surveys, while 37% are in shorter term, less secure positions as staff attorneys, fellows, or at will administrative positions.

Contrary to worries about contraction of clinical faculty, at half the schools the number of total full-time clinical instructors has remained constant, while at 38% it has increased, and at 12% decreased. The main factors contributing to an increase were the addition of new law clinic or externship courses, while the main factors contributing to the decrease were the retirement/death or voluntary departure of a clinical faculty member without a replacement. Only 5% of schools attributed the decrease to layoffs, and only 5% attributed it to decreased student interest in law clinic or field placement courses.

Finally, this was the first CSALE survey after the implementation of the new six-credit experiential coursework requirement. In response to that new standard, approximately one third of schools made no changes to its courses. However, 43% of schools added new law clinic, field placement, or simulations courses, 30% restructured some previously non-experiential courses to become experiential, and 23% increased the number of slots available to students in existing clinic, field placement, or simulations courses. Ten percent of schools simply restructured an existing legal research and writing course to now be considered experiential. The new standard has had some impact on the first-year curriculum — one-fourth of schools now offer or require an experiential course. Yet, only seven schools offer or require a law clinic or field placement course as part of the first-year curriculum as 95% of first year experiential courses are simulations.

CSALE’s report on the 2019-20 survey will provide much more detail from the Master Survey on school-wide programs and policies and, from the Sub-Survey, data on specific types of courses and teacher status and demographics. If information is power, there is great power in CSALE data to guide decisions on clinical programs, courses, and faculty. But, that information is only as good as what CSALE can collect. If you received an invitation to the survey and have not yet filled it out, please add your answers to CSALE’s nationwide database.

2 Responses

  1. I am very bothered by this sentence: “Ten percent of schools simply restructured an existing legal research and writing course to now be considered experiential.” While this may satisfy the literal language of standard 303, it does not satisfy its spirit. I hope that site visit committees will take a close look at this practice with the schools they visit, and that the Council will consider revising this language to prevent the practice.

  2. Thank you Scott for pointing that out.

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