Admissions task force kicks off its work
By Jon Streeter
President, State Bar of California
The Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform is now up and running. I
appointed this 21-member advisory group in April 2012 to review three issues:
(1) whether we should add a practical experience training requirement to the
criteria for Bar membership in California, (2) whether we have adequate rules
governing the disclosure practices of California accredited law schools for the
employment success rates of their graduates, and (3) whether graduates of
unaccredited law schools ought to continue to be eligible for membership in the
The membership of the task force consists of judges, legal academics, and
lawyers from a broad cross-section of the profession, and non-lawyer members of
the public. Our first meeting took place in early June, and we will be meeting
regularly for the next 18 months.
The task force work plan extends for an 18-month period and is divided into
two phases, with the first phase devoted to the issue of practical experience
training and the second phase devoted to law school transparency and unaccredited
law schools issues. More information on the task force membership, the exact
meeting schedule, and the meeting agendas, may be found on the bar’s website.
The need for improved practical skills training of new lawyers has never
been more pressing than it is now. More and more new lawyers are coming out of
law school, encountering difficulty in the job market, loaded with law school
debt, with no choice but to open a law practice on their own. And these days,
in the age of the internet, opening a law practice is easier than ever.
It is true that over the last two decades law schools have done a very good
job of making clinical practice courses available in law school, but it is time
that we stop putting sole responsibility on law schools for ensuring that new
lawyers enter the profession ready to practice. Some form of practical skills
training requirement – whether in the form of mentoring programs, CLE-type
programs specifically geared to new lawyers, or apprenticeship programs – has
been adopted in 32 states. Given the acute need, the task force will be
considering whether we may wish to adopt such a program in California.
Law school transparency until now has mostly been a subject of debate among
American Bar Association accredited law schools. The issue here, of course, has
to do with allegations that certain law schools have played fast and loose with
the data they publish concerning the employment success rates of their
graduates. Some critics have claimed that it has become commonplace for law
schools to inflate the percentage of graduates who find good jobs in the legal
profession, thus enticing prospective student to attend their schools and incur
massive amounts of debt based on unrealistic expectations of employability.
Within the last year, the ABA has undertaken a review of the adequacy of its
rules on post-graduation employment data disclosure. The State Bar of
California has no regulatory oversight of the 21 ABA-accredited law schools in
California, but we do oversee the 18 California-accredited law schools. Following
the lead of the ABA – but not necessarily the same approach – the task force
will be reviewing our rules on post-graduation data disclosure among
California-accredited law schools.
The unaccredited law schools issue has been a persistent concern among
members of the State Bar Board of Trustees and the Committee of Bar Examiners
for some time. The issue here bears some resemblance to law school
transparency, but comes up in different context. Bar passage rates for the
graduates of these schools has been so low for so long – in the low single
digits –that some critics have questioned whether these schools are taking
significant sums of money from students who never, realistically, will be able
to pass the bar examination, much less find employment in the profession.
Now, to be sure, the availability of a route into the profession through
these schools – a unique feature of our Bar, which exists in only one other
state – has its advantages. It offers legal education to working people and
other segments of the population who might not otherwise have access to law
schools, at dramatically lower cost than accredited schools.
The advantage of not making graduation from an accredited law school a
requirement for bar membership simply underscores the fact that, on this issue,
as on the issues of practical skills training and law school transparency, the
task force will have some close and difficult policy judgments to make.
With each meeting, the progress of our work on the task force will be posted
on the bar’s website. I invite you to follow what we are doing, and if you have
a particular interest in any of these issues, to attend one of our meetings and
address the task force in the public comment period.