Academics urge State Bar
to hold law schools accountable for training
By Amy Yarbrough
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.
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
“In my view, we need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach,”
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
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.