Survey Shows Law Schools’ Renewed Commitment to Develop Practice-Ready Professionals
Law schools across the country have expanded their clinical and professionalism programs and implemented other curricular changes in recent years, according to a comprehensive, empirical ABA study.
“A Survey of Law School Curricula: 2002-2010,” published by the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, found that the shifting economy and various calls for curricular reform prompted most schools to act, reflecting the schools’ desire to produce lawyers trained to practice in an evolving legal marketplace.
The 2010 survey builds on an empirical study the section conducted that examined law school curricula from 1992 to 2002. It uses the 2002 survey as a baseline to track changes and observe trends in law school curricula during the period between surveys.
“Our report offers empirical data to clarify the discussion of how law schools are preparing their students,” noted Hulett H. Askew, the ABA’s consultant on legal education. “The survey responses reveal a renewed commitment by law schools to review and revise their curricula to produce practice-ready professionals. The report illuminates the extent to which faculties and administrations have responded to the evolving needs of their students and to changes in the legal services industry.”
Survey editor Catherine Carpenter, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and chair of the ABA curriculum committee that produced the report, said the latest data show how law schools have responded both to a changing legal job market amid an economic downtown and to increased competition as the number of ABA-approved law schools has grown.
“Media scrutiny of legal education, and specifically of the law school curriculum, has also fueled the conversation,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter noted that “wholesale curricular review has produced experimentation and change at all levels of the curriculum, resulting in new programs and courses, new and enhanced experiential learning, and greater emphasis on various kinds of writing across the curriculum.”
Among the findings:
- Influences on curricular changes since 2002: Among the influences noted by law school respondents to this survey question, 76 percent of schools reported that the changing job market influenced curricular changes. In addition, 64 percent and 61 percent, respectively, cited as influential the 2007 reports “Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law” (Carnegie Foundation) and “Best Practices for Legal Education,” which both called for increased emphasis on professional skills and professionalism in the curriculum.
- Skills instruction: Law schools have increased all aspects of skills instruction—including clinical, simulation and externships—to meet recently adopted ABA Standard 302(a)(4), which requires that students receive “other professional skills” instruction.
- Pro bono: Although all law schools offer opportunities for pro bono service as required by the ABA, by 2010, 18 percent of law school respondents required students to fulfill pro bono hours for graduation, with schools reporting an average of 35 mandatory hours.
- Joint-degree programs: Eighty-seven percent of all ABA-approved law schools offered joint degrees in 2010. The most popular continued to be the JD/MBA (masters in business administration) but the JD/MSW (masters of social work) experienced the most growth. An increasing number of law schools offered post-JD and non-JD degree programs in 2010.
- Academic support and bar preparation courses: Nearly all law school respondents offered an academic-support program for their students. Forty-nine percent of respondents offered a bar-preparation course for credit, with two-thirds of the law schools using full-time faculty resources in the course offering.
- Legal writing: Law schools have increased unit requirements for first year legal writing and have added legal-writing courses and course components to the upper-division curriculum.
The 2010 survey is organized into seven sections:
- Requirements for graduation: Includes credits and minutes required, upper-division course requirements, and joint degrees offered.
- First-year course requirements: Includes course and credit hours and specific question on first-year legal writing.
- Upper-division curriculum: Includes core and elective curriculum, skills and clinical offerings, and increases and decreases in particular areas of law.
- Academic support and bar readiness: Focuses on voluntary and mandatory academic-support programs and courses for first-year and upper-division students. Also included are questions regarding bar-preparation courses for credit, topic selection and use of faculty resources.
- Post-JD and non-JD degree programs. Includes subject matter, degrees awarded and credit allocation.
- Distance education. Includes policies permitting distance education instruction and online degrees and programs.
- Law school narratives on curricular changes and trends, 2002-2010: Includes reports from law schools on major curricular innovations and changes they have implemented since 2002 and the influences that inspired these changes.
The executive summary of “A Survey of Law School Curricula: 2002-2010″ is available online here. The full report will be released in advance of a presentation of the study Aug. 4 at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.