Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of The Dean’s Office, a series of posts on legal education by Dean David Yellen of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
The American Bar Association plays an important, but often misunderstood, role in legal education. Overall, I believe the ABA deserves mixed grades for its response to the current crisis. It did not cause the crisis, and it is implementing some valuable improvements. But its resistance to change stands in the way of a number of needed reforms.
First, some background. The Council and Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education, not the ABA itself, is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit law schools. DOE rules require an accrediting agency to be separate and independent from a trade association, so the Section operates essentially autonomously from the main ABA. ABA accreditation is critical to law schools because all states authorize graduates of ABA accredited schools to take the bar examination. Recently, the President of the ABA itself created the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education (on which I serve). The Task Force is an advisory group, though, with no accreditation authority.
Two key features of the ABA process are voluntarism and self-regulation….
Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The Dean’s Office, a series of posts on legal education by Dean David Yellen of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. You can read the first post here.
The winds of change are swirling around legal education. Many of the critical challenges we are facing today involve the following three factors: capacity, cost, and quality. Are there too many law students, law schools, or both? Why is law school so expensive? Are law schools doing an adequate job of preparing students for their careers? (Note: I have explored these issues in a little more detail in recent posts at The Faculty Lounge.)
The first decade of this century was a boom time for law schools. From 2000 – 2010, first year law school enrollment increased around 20%, from 43,000 to 52,000. The number of ABA accredited schools went from 183 to 200. Jobs seemed plentiful in the first half of the decade, there were strategic advantages to growth and many universities felt it was prestigious to add a law school. Since 2010, the number of applicants has tumbled about 40%. First year enrollment dropped to 44,000 this year. In the fall of 2013, as few as 40,000 students will enroll, representing the smallest number since the 1970’s.
This decline in enrollment is a good thing, given the job market. Fewer than 60% of the class of 2011 had permanent, full-time jobs requiring a JD nine months after graduation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting around 22,000-25,000 lawyer jobs per year, counting growth and attrition.
Ed. note: Welcome to the first installment of The Dean’s Office, a series of posts on legal education by Dean David Yellen of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Welcome to The Dean’s Office. I know that law school deans are not particularly popular on Above The Law, so what am I doing here? In January, I met Elie after he spoke about media and communications in the internet era at the annual conference of all the law schools. We had an interesting conversation (he’s much nicer in person than in print!) and he later asked me to write an occasional column about legal education topics from a dean’s perspective. So for now, I’ll be appearing here every other week.
I have been a law professor since 1988 and a dean (at two different schools) since 2001. In addition to my regular job, I have been involved in legal education reform. I recently served for six years as a volunteer member of the ABA Section of Legal Education’s Standards Review Committee (more on that in future columns) and currently serve on the ABA President’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.
These are the most tumultuous times in legal education that many of us have ever seen. The elements of the current crisis are well known. The job market for our graduates has been very rough since the Great Recession. We have learned that law firm jobs were declining even before then, as the impact of changes in the profession, globalization, and technology began to be felt….
Critics of the current legal-education model, including my colleague Elie Mystal, have accused the American Bar Association of failing to uphold sufficiently stringent accreditation standards. ABA-accredited law schools proliferate, even though thousands of law school graduates find themselves unemployed or underemployed.
Really, it’s a good news/bad news kind of thing. The good news: the ABA committee reviewing the accreditation standards for law schools is starting to remember it has some power over how law schools operate. The bad news: the committee is contemplating a change that will only result in making it easier for schools to recruit any and all with the ability to pay (or go into debt), while at the same time gaming the U.S. News law school rankings.
The latest brain nugget to come from the ABA is a proposal to remove the LSAT requirement for admission into law school. Currently, the committee requires prospective law students to take a “valid and reliable” test. But a number of schools already have a waiver so they can admit their own undergraduates without taking a rankings hit due to low LSAT scores. The new ABA proposal would simply drop the requirement altogether.
I don’t think the LSAT is indicative of whole lot more than one’s ability to study for the LSAT. Being able to take standardized tests is an important skill — at least if you ever want to pass your state bar exam — but it’s not the only skill. From an educational standpoint, I don’t think it really matters if students have to take the LSAT or not.
But given the proliferation of law schools more concerned about generating tuition dollars than preparing the next generation of lawyers, the LSAT exists as one of the few barriers to entry to a profession that is already overrun with applicants. Dropping the requirement is a move in the wrong direction that will only make it easier for diploma mills to churn out the next generation of unemployed, wage-depressing attorneys….
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The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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