Washington, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Legal Education in
That could have been the theme of the Association of American Law Schools' (AALS) annual gathering this week in
Washington, D.C., given the developments of 2011.
Last year, two law schools admitted they reported false
data on incoming classes to help boost their rankings.
Meanwhile, three U.S. Senators scolded the American Bar Association (ABA) for what they considered weak policing of law
schools, allowing some schools to make job placement for
graduates look rosier than it is. On top of that, graduates of
three law schools sued their alma maters, alleging consumer
Instead, the AALS, a non-profit professional group of
faculty and administrators at 172 U.S. law schools, is
adapting "academic freedom and academic duty" as the theme of
its four-day program, with an emphasis on threats to law
professors' tenure and protected speech. Attendees also are
tackling a wide range of issues, from the rising cost of law
school to the demographics of law school faculty.
Michael Olivas, a professor at the University of Houston
Law Center and president of the AALS, said that despite the
problems law schools face, there's "never been a better time to
apply to law school."
"Prospective students can access more information than ever
before, and it has never been easier or cheaper to borrow money
to pay for law school," Olivas told Reuters.
'IT'S THE CLIENT, STUPID'
During Thursday's session on "Changes in Legal Profession
and Regulation" -- part of a day-long workshop on the future of
the legal profession and legal education -- panelists sparred
over whether schools have an obligation to teach students
practical skills that will help them navigate the world of law
Susan Hackett, chief executive officer of the consulting
firm Legal Executive Leadership, said that clients are calling
the shots in law firms today, and many think it is "ludicrous"
to pay hefty hourly rates for recent law school graduates to
learn on the job.
Hackett said that more clients should be working directly
with law schools on course work and curricula. "It's the
client, stupid," she said.
Thomas Harvey of the nonprofit ArchCity Defenders in St.
Louis, Missouri, countered that law schools are not meant to be
trade schools that service large corporate law firms.
"I think law school works," said Harvey. "It works because
it is a broad and not a narrow experience."
Offerings in the days ahead include sessions on law school
finance, teaching innovations, and the regulation of the legal
academy. On Thursday, there is a day-long workshop called
"Socio-Economics in the Academy and the Economy," that includes
discussions on the mortgage crisis and sustainable development.
Participants can also attend a variety of issue-specific panels
including "Jewish Law at Harvard: Rediscovering Nathan Isaacs,"
"Speed Mentoring and New Voices in Gender," and "Property Law
and Real Estate Transactions: Rethinking Urban Development."
The keynote luncheon speaker on Friday is Judge Jose
Cabranes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit,
and Saturday features a forum with U.S. Supreme Court Justice
'THIS IS YOUR CHANCE'
Paul Horwitz, a professor at the University of Alabama
School of Law attending the conference, said he hoped it would
address what he called a "crisis" in legal education.
"I hope we will seize on the opportunity of being here
together to reflect on legal education issues that have been in
the public eye for the last year or so," said Horwitz. "In good
times and bad, we need to ask certain questions: Has the cost
structure of law school gotten out of whack? Do we provide the
right mix of tactical and theoretical training?"
For those who routinely criticize law schools for rising
tuition costs and diminishing job opportunities, he said it may
be time for less talk and more direct action.
The AALS conference is "about as good an opportunity as you
will have [to protest], so if you want to take it up, this is
your chance," Horwitz said.
(Reporting by Moira Herbst)
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