Brian Leiter has posted a critique of proposed new ABA rules that would mandate that a law school require every student to complete 15 credits of skills education. While Brian critiqued the proposal on substance, he's posted comments of others as well. These comments go astray, in my opinion.
The specific terms of the proposal would be that a school must require:
One or more experiential course(s) totaling at least fifteen credit hours. An experiential course or courses must be: (i) simulation course(s); or (ii) clinical course(s); or (iii) field placement(s). To satisfy this requirement, a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must: (i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics and engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302; (ii) develop the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught; (iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and (iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.
This is a variant of an existing proposal, out for comment, that would require 6 credits of this sort - rather than the single course required under current rules.
Whatever one might think of this new proposal, and that goes to fundamental questions about what a law school should be teaching, the two common critiques - that it is too expensive and that it is designed to benefit a particular interest group (clinical faculty) - are off target.
Critics concerned about cost have it backwards. While this proposal could increase a law school's costs, if it chose to implement it via live-client clinics, it could also substantially decrease the school's costs if it used externships to deliver the credits. (There are some faculty costs to proper supervision of externships, but they are low, vis-a-vis the total number of credits.) Put it another way: schools looking to slice the cost of delivering legal education should love this proposal.
For the same reason, critics worried that this is just a maneuver to protect clinical faculty jobs have it wrong. This could increase the number of clinical positions, but there is nothing in the rule that suggests it would. Indeed, the current economic climate suggests it will not. On the other hand, in addition to implementing the liberal use of externships, schools may lean on "podium" faculty to incorporate simulations in their classes. These faculty may find this proposal unappealing because simulations take more time to teach - and thus alter the proportion of time a professor may need to dedicate to teaching.
This proposal reflects the view of many clinical faculty, and many other law professors, who see practical skills training as core to the law school project. This proposal should also be good news for anyone who wants the current 3 year curriculum to survive.
There are criticisms to be made. Perhaps many students don't want the law degree for the purpose of legal practice. Perhaps students are best served by substantial freedom in course selection. Perhaps one or more of these approaches to skills training don't add value. Perhaps we should slice law school to two years, and outsource skills training entirely to employers. Or perhaps, if this proposal is adopted and students use 15 credits on skills classes, certain boutique c0urses will no longer fill and current faculty will be forced into teaching different classes.
But whatever one thinks of this proposal, criticisms targeted at the faculty proposing the change - rather than the change itself - are, in my view, misplaced.
I will moderate comments.