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Monday, July 23, 2012

UC Hastings Faculty at Forefront in Legal Education Dialogue in California, Nationwide

UC Hastings College of the Law leaders are taking pivotal roles in the national dialogue on the future of legal education.

Professor Leo Martinez has been appointed to a seat on an American Bar Association task force looking at the future of legal education. Martinez, who is president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools, is one of several academics on the task force that includes lawyers, judges and general counsel.

Academic Dean Shauna Marshall has been named to a newly formed State Bar of California committee on bar admissions, which is considering whether to require practical training, such as clinical work or an externship, for admission to the state bar.

Both groups are a response to the market forces changing the profession, as well as criticism that law schools are turning out too many debt-laden young lawyers for the profession to absorb.

The new committee on which Marshall serves is looking at whether to require practical training for bar admission in California. “Doctors, architects and accountants are all required to complete apprenticeships,” she notes. Those professions, however, are structured to provide such training. Medical schools, for example, only turn out as many graduates as teaching hospitals can accommodate in residency programs.

Options for the legal profession would include an increased clinical component or a more formal use of externships. In the UK, Australia and Hong Kong, young lawyers serve as “trainee solicitors” for two years, typically at law firms, before they can qualify as a full-fledged solicitor.

“Whatever we do, more needs to be done in law schools. But it is very expensive to deliver,” Marshall said. “This is one of the most challenging times for legal education.”

Whether the additional training is provided at law schools or through partnerships with public and private employers, it would mark a fundamental shift in the legal economy, Marshall said.

“Big law” firms and clients are demanding that students come with more practical training, she added, and are balking at teaching young associates the craft of lawyering on their dime.

The committee is also looking at just what it takes to be a lawyer, and how best to teach those skills.

UC Hastings is at the forefront of schools making changes to address those concerns. In its “reboot of legal education,” the college has reduced its August incoming class by 20 percent. The move will give students more individual attention in classes and clinics, and better align the supply of graduates with the demand for new lawyers.

“We are trying to do what is best for UC Hastings and best for our students,” Martinez said.

Marshall said at UC Hastings leaders focus on giving a well-rounded, grounded education. “We teach students the analytical tools, but apply them to real-life legal problems.” The school is also committed to training lawyers for a variety of private, public and nonprofit jobs, not just “big law” positions.

Cost is a huge concern, Marshall noted, not just for institutions, but for students themselves. The average U.S. law student graduates with about $100,000 in debt. Some students need additional loans to be able to study for the bar. Marshall said she is concerned about saddling students with more debt while delaying their ability to earn a wage that allows them to pay down school debt manageably.

While it is not a requirement of the ABA or any state bars that newly minted lawyers participate in legal clinics, most law schools have a clinical component. UC Hastings has 15 legal clinics. In the class of 2012, 40% of students completed a semester-long clinic before graduating. Nearly 65% of students completed either clinical work or an externship.

Chancellor and Dean Frank H. Wu said UC Hastings welcomes the chance to lead important discussions on the future of legal education and the profession.

“UC Hastings continues to be acknowledged as an institutional leader in this effort to address structural problems,” Wu said.

A former chancellor and dean of UC Hastings, Martinez has a unique view of legal education, having participated in some two dozen ABA accreditation evaluations of other law schools. He also leads strategic planning retreats for law schools around the country.

Martinez said it is important to note that law schools are reacting as best they can to changes in the market, as quickly as they can. “Self-reflection is not a bad thing. But there is a lot being done right,” he said.

Martinez’s commission will spend the next 18 months developing a report with findings and recommendations on how legal education can assure that academic and clinical offerings are properly preparing today’s young lawyers for their place in the global market.

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