The AALS each year selects a few “hot topics” program proposals for discussion of “late-breaking” subjects at the January meeting. This year I agreed to be included in a hot topics panel described as follows:
Law schools have long kept a comfortable distance from the concerns of the practicing bar. Earlier calls for reform such as the MacCrate Report (1992), the Carnegie Foundation’s Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Practice of Law (2007), and Stuckey et al, Best Practices for Legal Education (2007), have led to a greater emphasis on more practical training, at least in law school admissions brochures if not always in the curriculum. Increasing competition for rankings has also changed the dynamics of reputation with respect to academic study and practical training at some law schools. Fundamentally, however, most schools have seen little change in the curriculum and overall approach to delivery of instruction since the last century. Despite this, students have continued to flock to law schools, and more law schools have sought and received accreditation. Recently, however, a series of high-profile news reports, blogs, lawsuits by recent graduates, ABA disciplinary actions against law schools, and calls from Congress for stricter regulation have brought increased public attention to fundamental questions about the delivery of legal education in the U.S. What was once dismissed as the unfounded complaints of a minority of embittered law students is approaching a full-blown scandal. Issues such as the ABA’s capture by the law schools it is meant to accredit and regulate, the skyrocketing cost of a legal education in the face of what some argue is a long-term restructuring in the legal market and a permanent downturn in employment, and law schools’ failure to disclose meaningful and accurate information regarding employment prospects, are converging into a widespread sense of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with legal education.
While the perspectives and methods of the panelists vary, each has been a voice for reform within legal education. Some call for a strengthened regulatory hand; others call for deregulation of the legal profession or for voluntary collective action by law schools. All share a concern for the improvement of legal education and the profession. This panel will be an opportunity for a candid and highly interactive assessment of the situation and directions forward.
Does this discussion sound like the sort of late-breaking “hot topic” that ought to have been included in the AALS program? I guess not, because it was rejected.
Instead, the AALS chose programs on Occupy Wall Street, the Endangered Species Act, human rights in Russia, health care reform, the legacy of Derrick Bell, Supreme Court recusal, the ministerial employment discrimination exception, DOMA and alternatives to incarceration.
Why the rejection? There are two hypotheses: the AALS didn’t think its members would regard the future of legal education to be as important and current a topic as those just listed; or the AALS as an organization didn’t want to be the forum for such a panel.
Either way, the rejection seems disturbing for law teaching (not for me — I can find other things to do).