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ABA sessions resolve some issues, not all

By: Todd Etshman//August 11, 2011

ABA sessions resolve some issues, not all

By: Todd Etshman//August 11, 2011//

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There was no shortage of news coming from the conclusion of the American Bar Association’s annual meetings in Toronto this week. Among the developments:

• The ABA and the Association for Legal Career Professionals will work amicably together to collect and report law school data.
• The ABA adopted a New York State Bar Association resolution revising law school course curriculum, which includes capstone courses designed to make students more practice-ready upon graduation.
• On Wednesday, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he is not satisfied with the ABA’s response to his concerns about law school student loan default rates and its reporting of law school graduate employment rates. 

NALP and the ABA

When the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions announced on Aug. 6 that it would require additional data from law schools to be given directly to the ABA, it created a conflict with the NALP which had long since collected that data. NALP threatened the possibility of a lawsuit.

The two sides met at the ABA meetings to try and resolve the issue.

“Last Friday’s meeting was a good one,” said NALP Executive Director James Leipold. “[A]nd while the details of the way things will work was not worked out, there was a basic agreement between NALP and the ABA that we would cooperate on this project.

“Our two organizations have agreed in principle to establishing common definitions and reporting dates in order to minimize the duplication of bookkeeping and reporting,” Leipold told NALP members.

NALP said in the next few weeks it will work out the details with the ABA’s Questionnaire Committee, with guidance from the ABA Council.

“I believe that both of our organizations’ goals can be met, and that NALP’s ability to collect, analyze, and report on the employment outcomes of the graduating class can be preserved in tandem with a requirement that schools report more detailed employment outcomes directly to the ABA,” Leipold explained.

The ABA had been criticized for the lack of information, or misleading information, that law schools provide prospective students — particularly when it comes to job placement. Beginning in September, law schools will now be required to provide more specific and detailed employment information.

Practice ready lawyers

The ABA House of Delegates adopted the NYSBA’s resolution that law schools and continuing legal education providers add courses and educational materials that provide the knowledge, skills and values that are required of a modern lawyer. The resolution evolved from the state bar’s 2011 “Report on the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession,” co-chaired by T. Andrew Brown, managing partner of Rochester’s Brown & Hutchinson. Brown said there is an increased need in clinical and experiential learning.

“To a significant extent, the interest is in developing attorneys and law school graduates that are more practice ready,” Brown said.

The NYSBA said capstone courses integrate legal doctrine, skills and theory, and include writing, clinics and practice exercises.

“We must not abandon the traditional classroom, but we should enhance it,” NYSBA President Vincent E. Doyle III said. “Legal educators, including continuing legal education providers and employers, must look outside the classroom and focus on real world opportunities to train men and women to be better practitioners.”

The adopted resolution (10B) said the ABA’s constituent bodies should consider the requirements for the success of future lawyers as they carry out their responsibilities.

Law school student loan default

ABA Immediate Past President Stephen Zack may have had his hands full with the many issues and events at the ABA annual meeting, but as the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Grassley continued his request that the ABA do something about law school graduates’ loan default rates.

“[T]axpayers are on the hook for any defaulted student loans,” Grassley said in relation to an Aug. 8 letter he sent to Zack. “The American Bar Association seems confident that students will be able to pay back their loans, yet also acknowledges uncertain job prospects for lawyers. It’s important to examine this further and try to reconcile these statements.”

In the letter, Grassley asked Zack what steps the ABA is taking, or plans to take, to address the problem of student loan defaults in a legal job market in which recruitment and salaries are declining. Grassley’s office said the federal government will make approximately 24.3 million loans totaling $116.4 billion to students and their parents for higher education, including graduate studies, this year. According to Grassley, the prospect of increasing loan default rates for law school graduates is a concern the ABA hasn’t adequately addressed.

Zach has noted that the ABA does not have a benchmark for what is an unacceptable default rate. Grassley wants the ABA to determine the rate and said the ABA’s response was inadequate.

“Law school accreditation is like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” Grassley said. “The accreditation implies that the accrediting agency did its homework on behalf of the students who will indebt themselves to attend and on behalf of the taxpayers who made their loans possible.”

The ABA meetings in Toronto concluded with the installation of new ABA President William T. Robinson III of Kentucky.

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