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Academics urge State Bar to hold law schools accountable for training

By Amy Yarbrough
Staff Writer

Despite initial resistance from some law schools, academics on a State Bar task force looking at whether practical skills training should be required for new lawyers have emerged as strong supporters of the idea.

Marjorie Shultz
Shultz

When the Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform met for the fourth time on Nov. 7, UC Hastings School of Law assistant dean Shauna Marshall and UC Berkeley School of Law professor Marjorie Shultz said law schools should share in the burden of teaching aspiring attorneys the day-to-day skills they need to interact with clients or run a business. Deanell Tacha, dean of Pepperdine University’s School of Law agreed.

When the practical skills training proposal was announced earlier this year, some deans cautioned the State Bar not to dictate the content of their curriculum, concerned that it would interfere with similar efforts some schools already have under way. But Marshall said the bar should be pushing law schools to do more, noting that clients are no longer willing to pay for young lawyers to get on-the-job training at law firms.

“It's even more incumbent on us to put pressure on law schools to take up this obligation,” she said.

Shultz, a professor emeritus, said she was concerned that the State Bar alone wouldn't be able to convince law schools to make practical skills training part of the core curriculum. But she agreed that law schools need to be doing more to prepare their students for the working world.

“I'm really sympathetic with the notion that students pay this enormous amount of money for three years of training, and then we start to figure out what we need to teach them about either professionalism or actual performance on the job," she said.

Former State Bar president and task force chair Jon Streeter said during the meeting that the plan was to take a “basket approach where we would have a number of different avenues to fulfill the requirement.”

While the details are still being ironed out, options include adding a new Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirement that lawyers would take after the bar exam, but prior to being admitted to practice. Law students might also be required to complete a certain number of pro bono or mentoring hours. Prospective lawyers would likely have two years to meet the requirements – during their last year of law school and their first year of practice.

“In my view, we need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach,” Streeter said.

While the number of hours and types of mentoring programs are still being debated, one idea is to model them after a New York program that requires students to log 50 hours of pro bono work before being admitted to practice law.

Marshall said Hastings has already been looking at ways to help its students comply with the New York rules, since a number of graduates end up taking the New York State Bar exam.

“We are advising students to think about additional pro bono work,” she said.

Marshall said she’s not as worried about students from elite schools meeting a pro bono requirement as those who attend lower tier schools, who tend to hold down jobs on the side.

Task force member Loren Kieve said he believes aspiring lawyers and their law schools will find a way to make it happen.

“If you require it, they will do it,” he said.

The task force plans to complete its draft recommendations by mid-December and will meet next on Jan. 15 in Los Angeles.

At that meeting, the task force will also begin the second phase of its mission: exploring the adequacy of regulations governing disclosure by California accredited law schools of post-graduate employment data and whether to limit admission to the State Bar of California to graduates of ABA- or California-accredited law schools.