Among other things, the ABA is considering
- Allowing students to be paid at externships for which they receive credit
- Allowing 10% of an entering class to be admitted without LSAT scores
Read all the details here. Comments are due by April 18.
My fear about the rule allowing double-dipping is that we'll see less of "I have an externship with a firm...why can't they pay me" and more of the "I'm making $8 an hour at a firm...why can't I have credit." That is, externship sites will be picked more for the fact that they pay than for the fact that lawyers are game to supervise and mentor law students.
The ABA correctly points out that any placement will still be required to satisfy Standard 305. But my sense is that the quality of externship supervision varies wildly from school to school. I suspect that many of the assurances of quality happen at the front end right now: schools approve sites based on the expectation that the work is substantive the hosts are eager to spend valuable time mentoring. I'm guessing that many law schools use the heuristic that certain types of placements - judges, public interest firms, and government agencies - are used to providing a lot of supervision and mentoring. The fact is, a high quality externship is often quite inefficient for law firms, and particularly the supervising attorneys.
In this new world, law schools may feel significant pressure to allow existing student job sites (of whatever quality) to be added on to the externship roster. And because those employers wanted a worker who would make them money in the first instance - rather pursuing than more altruistic goals - there is less assurance that they'll take the necessary time to supervise the worker beyond what is most efficient for the firm. Making money is what brought 'em to the dance.
Of course, there is a good argument that says that a paid apprenticeship would be a perfect capstone to law school and that these firms don't need law schools to tell them how to teach young lawyers. This is, after all, the nature of first year asssociate work at a big firm. If so, it is fair to ask why we'd still require the students to earn credits - or, more specifically, pay tuition - for that capstone.