Op-Ed by Professor Jackie Gardina: Educating Effective Lawyers
May 31, 2012
Vermont Law School Professor Jackie Gardina co-wrote the following commentary with Professor Ngai Pindell, associate dean for Academic Affairs at the William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Las Vegas, Nevada. They are co-presidents of the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), which works to advance diversity, social justice, innovative teaching methodologies and legal representation to underserved people and communities.
The California State Bar is considering whether to impose a practical skills requirement for admission. Not surprisingly, many local law schools are opposed to the idea, suggesting that such a mandate is both unnecessary and unwise. But the California Bar is not alone in encouraging law schools to provide students with a broader range of experiences and measurable skills before graduation. For decades, law schools have had access to reports and studies that show that the traditional curriculum is outdated. Unfortunately, law schools have been slow to respond.
The American Bar Association (ABA) Council on Legal Education, the accrediting body for law schools, has the opportunity to mandate a change in legal education and require law schools to provide students with identifiable skills and experiences. For more than two years, the ABA Council of Legal Education Standards Review Committee has been drafting proposed changes to the law school accreditation standards. One hotly debate change involves a mandate that law schools identify student learning outcomes, assess student progress in achieving them and evaluate their educational programs in light of student achievement of those outcomes.
Unfortunately, the ABA seems content to maintain the status quo. In response to pressure from some law professors, deans and administrators, the Standards Review Committee has identified only a very limited set of mandated skills - essentially naming only the skills that have been taught for the last 100 years at virtually all law schools. The ABA is missing a critical opportunity to ensure that law schools fulfill their obligation to educate students in the wide range of skills and values effective lawyers require.
If those in charge of setting the minimum standards with which law schools must comply fail to require law schools to teach a wider range of lawyering skills, they should not be surprised by the continuing criticism that law schools are failing to prepare students for the practice of law. Nor should they be surprised if state bar associations step in.