Task force calls for innovation to reduce cost and improve value of law degrees

 The American Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education last week released its final report, which calls on law schools, bar associations, regulators and others to redesign the financial model now prevalent in law schools, revise the system that accredits law schools to permit more experimentation and innovation, and expand opportunities for delivery of legal services. 

“At present, the system faces considerable pressure because of the price many students pay for their education, the large amount of student debt, consecutive years of sharply falling applications, and dramatic changes, possibly structural, in the market for jobs available to law graduates,” the report states. “These factors have resulted in great financial stress on law schools, damage to career and economic prospects of many recent graduates, and diminished public confidence in the system of legal education. 
“The predicament of so many students and so many recent graduates who may never procure the employment they anticipated when they enrolled in their law schools is a compelling reality that should be heeded by all who are involved in our system of legal education,” the report continues. 
The task force was commissioned in July 2012 by then-ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III and supported by all subsequent ABA presidents. It was authorized to investigate problems that plague the U.S. system of legal education and to identify potential solutions. 
“As the task force report acknowledges, the U.S. legal education system is widely admired around the world, but we in the legal profession all must work to ensure that the system remains strong and viable to meet the evolving needs of our clients and society in a changing, globalized world,” ABA President James R. Silkenat said. “The American Bar Association looks forward to encouraging discussion, debate and, where consensus emerges, action on the task force’s thoughtful and diligently developed recommendations." 
The task force’s chair, former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, will report the recommendations to the ABA House of Delegates at the association’s Midyear Meeting, Feb. 10, in Chicago. 
“The breadth and depth of testimony the task force heard makes it clear that there are no fast and painless answers for the problems facing legal education, which are created by often complex and interrelated forces,” Shepard said. “That said, I believe our report will be a strong and helpful resource for the legal community to determine the steps we all need to take to provide meaningful opportunities to those who want to serve as lawyers and deliver justice for all." 
To prepare the report and recommendations, the task force reviewed relevant literature, solicited testimony and obtained more than 100 sets of written comments from interested parties.