Well it appears that I have survived my first post despite deliberately touching the proverbial “third rail” of legal education – suggesting broader utilization of adjunct practitioner faculty and questioning the long-term financial efficacy of traditional faculty tenure.
Emboldened by the stunned silence . . . let’s move the conversation into another faculty favorite . . . transitioning legal education towards a clinical education model that emphasizes practical skills training.
As a community law school, Monterey College of Law’s relationship with the local courts has developed beyond utilizing judges as faculty and having them judge our moot court program. As the state budget crisis hit the California courts . . . and the recession hit California citizens, the two problems intersected.
First, the appearances of self-represented litigants in family law and civil cases significantly increased . . . and second, self-help center hours and staffing at the court were cut. Pro per litigants were wrecking havoc on an already stretched judiciary. With an interest in playing a role in the justice continuum within the community, MCL recognized an opportunity for the law school to be part of the solution.
MCL collaborated with the Superior Court to identify how supervised law students could best be utilized. In a three-part initiative, the law school expanded existing mediation programs to reduce the number of cases coming before the court, developed new community clinical workshops to assist pro per and other litigants, and provided student research assistants for habeas corpus petitions and to assist court staff research attorneys and judges.
The result, so far, has included the following community clinical/workshop programs staffed and supported by MCL and supervised law students.
Expanded existing programs:
1) small claims advisory clinic; 2) small claims mediation program; 3) court-directed mediation program for limited civil (under $100K in controversy); and 4) special mediation program for neighbor disputes (referred by courts, code enforcement, and local police).
New programs (within the past three years):
1) guardianship workshop; 2) domestic violence restraining order clinic; 3) expungement clinic (for youth offenders); 4) family law clinic (financial documentation); 5) small claims collections workshop; and 6) unlawful detainer workshop.
In order to provide enough student hours to staff all of the programs, MCL made three changes to the law school’s curriculum and policies. First, we increased the number of credits required for graduation from 85 to 86 credits. The additional credit allowed the school to increase the minimum number of required clinical/workshop credits from two to three. Second, the school discontinued a previous policy that limited students to five clinical/workshop credits that could be counted toward graduation. Students can now theoretically earn as many as 10 elective credits through clinics, workshops, and internships. Practically speaking, it is difficult for students to schedule that many units, but on average, the number of per student clinical credits has doubled from three to six. Third, we made completion of a two-credit, 30-hour mediation certification program a requirement for graduation.
A State Bar of California Task Force recently issued a report that recommended three pre-licensure requirements for new lawyers: 1) mandatory practical skills training in law school, 2) mandatory pro bono legal service experience prior licensure, and 3) additional CLE training in areas such as ADR/mediation.
This is another example of where community law schools such as MCL realized the importance of this type of professional training years ago. MCL students will typically graduate with more than 200 hours of practical skills training, 180 hours of pro bono community service, and a mediation certificate that meets the proposed CLE recommendation.
During the State Bar Task Force hearings on the new recommendations, not a single ABA law school supported the new recommendations. Our experience is that these changes have made our program more relevant to the students, improved the transition from school to practice, and created relationships with the local bench and bar that provide valuable professional opportunities for our students and graduates.