ABA's Task Force on Fixing Law School Has a Lot of Bad Ideas

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ahem, it's actually the American Bar Association's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. Either way, they need to take another look and issue a second (technically, fourth) draft.

The final report, which the ABA Journal notes is barely different than the task force's previous working paper and draft reports, presents 41 pages of recommendations, some of which are good, and some of which are absolutely terrible.

What does the task force's imaginary "future" look like?

Horrible: Non-Lawyers Practicing Law

Many in this country lack access to affordable justice. Lawyers, after seven years or more of school, expect to be paid an amount sufficient to cover the juice on their student loan debt. The people can't afford us, and we can't afford them.

What's the solution? Echoing the call of a recent California suggestion, the ABA Task Force wants slightly less-trained legal practitioners, akin to a physician assistants.

Stop. Just stop and punch yourself in the head. Please.

We have tens of thousands of unemployed recent graduates. We have hundreds of law schools churning out even more. And the solution is more bodies for fewer jobs? Providing legal assistance to the poor with less-qualified practitioners? Undercutting our already suffering J.D.s with half-lawyers?

You want access to justice? Fix student loan debt. Increase forgiveness programs. Wasn't the new ABA president just talking about a Legal Jobs Corps? That's not a bad idea: work for a few years in an underserved community, have an ABA-led charity pay off your debt.

Less Horrible: Deflate Tuition, Fewer Merit Scholarships

True pricing for school. Sounds like a good idea, right?

The sticker price for a J.D. has skyrocketed over the past few decades. Those with high GPAs and/or LSAT scores are bribed with scholarship discounts. Those with mediocre admissions numbers end up paying the full asking price or going to a lesser school that does offer money.

The ABA wants transparent pricing, lower sticker prices, and as a result, fewer merit scholarships.

Decreasing tuition is a great idea. Nixing merit scholarships? We're not so sure. If someone works for her high admissions numbers, shouldn't she be rewarded for the work? There are other ways to decrease tuition costs without punishing the hard workers.

Hilariously enough, the Task Force calls for the formation of another task force to study the pricing and financing of law school.

Not Horrible: Blow Up the ABA Accreditation System

Buried after pages of vague flowery language are actual, specific recommendations, which start on Page 30. The most intriguing recommendations basically call for re-evaluating the ABA's entire accreditation system.

Specifically, the Task Force calls for examining provisions related to distance education, credit for pre-law academic work, the amount of time required for a J.D., and the plethora of pro-faculty accreditation standards [PDF], such as restrictions on student-faculty ratios along with faculty-protecting provisions mandating tenure and full-time faculty ratios.

These aren't terrible ideas. The pro-faculty rules drive up the cost of legal education by mandating more full-time professors with tenure. Shorter J.D. programs, while increasing the amount of surplus lawyers, might help to decrease the cost of a J.D. (and increase access to legal services without diluting the standards of the profession).

What do you think about the ABA's ideas: good, or horrible? Join the discussion on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard