ABA task force on the future of legal education issues draft report on reforms

Stating that the system of legal education in the United States is widely admired around the world but faces serious challenges, the American Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education Friday issued its draft report with recommendations. 

Key proposals call for changes in the pricing of legal education, liberalizing or eliminating certain accreditation standards, and speeding the pace of innovation and practical-skills training at law schools. The draft also calls on courts and bar authorities to devise new frameworks for licensing legal service providers. 

“The Task Force believes that if the participants in legal education continue to act in good faith on the recommendations presented here, with an appreciation of the urgency of coordinated change, significant benefits for students, society, and the system of legal education can be brought about quickly, and a foundation can be established for continuous adaptation and improvement,” the draft report states. 

The Task Force is soliciting public comment on the draft that will help the panel prepare a final report for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates. Neither the draft report nor the final report represents the policy or positions of the ABA. 

“While the Task Force is not finished with its work, this draft report represents our effort thus far to formulate solid proposals to ensure that legal education in the United States remains viable in light of substantial economic and structural changes,” said Task Force Chair Randall T. Shepard, former chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. 

“We look forward to receiving additional public comment to supplement the hearings and comments process that we have conducted over the last year,” Shepard continued. “Our goal is to produce a final report that will be as comprehensive and effective as possible while taking into account all the views that came to our attention.” 

Said ABA President James R. Silkenat: “Legal education in the United States is the best in the world, but it must continue to evolve to match the rapid changes that are taking place in legal practice in the United States. The Task Force’s draft report was informed by a thoroughly open process, which is important, given the gravity and complexity of the issues. The draft report represents the hard work and broad-based inquiry that ABA leadership expected from our insightful Task Force members, who represent a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. 

“We are grateful for the Task Force’s continuing efforts under the leadership of Justice Shepard,” Silkenat continued. “Thanks to the Task Force’s work, the legal community will be able to have a full, engaged discussion with all stakeholders concerning the future of legal education. This is a topic that is critical to our profession and essential to the delivery of legal services in the United States.” 

The Task Force was commissioned in July 2012 by then-ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III and supported by ABA leadership, including Silkenat and Immediate Past President Laurel G. Bellows. 

To prepare the draft report and recommendations, the Task Force reviewed literature on problems and solutions. It met throughout the year to review and test potential solutions, accelerating its original timetable in light of the seriousness of the developing challenges to legal education in the United States. 

The Task Force solicited written comments from interested parties starting in September 2012, held two public hearings and conducted a webcasted mini-conference in April 2013, to which various knowledgeable parties were invited to share information and perspectives. 

In addition, the Task Force chair met with the leadership of the Association of American Law Schools and conducted a forum for deans of ABA-approved law schools. The chair and other Task Force members held forums at the annual meeting of the Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the Conference of Chief Justices. 


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