California State Bar Board of Trustees approve updated law school accreditation rules

At its meeting on May 13, 2021, the California State Bar Board of Trustees adopted new accreditation rules for California accredited law schools. The new rules will come into effect on January 1st, 2022, with law schools required to demonstrate compliance by January 1, 2024, and are designed to incorporate best practices and provide a framework to recognise law schools that are accredited by regional or national accreditors. As well as these rules aim to focus accreditation on its essential purpose, rather than creating extraneous requirements.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“This effort is the latest example in the State Bar’s many efforts to broaden access to quality legal education in our diverse state. The new accreditation rules will ensure that law schools and the State Bar are focusing on what matters most to ensure positive student outcomes and ultimately support our efforts to protect the public.”

California is one of the few states in the USA that permits accreditation other than by the American Bar Association (ABA), and offers more separate pathways into qualification as a lawyer than any other state. Currently, nearly two dozen law schools are directly accredited by  the California Bar, with the goal of offering accessible, affordable, and flexible options for law students.

The revised rules further four key purposes for accreditation of California law schools:

  1. Consumer protection and transparency;
  2. Student success;
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  4. Preparation for licensure and professionalism.

The approval of the rules, which comes as a culmination of two years of work by the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Committee of State Bar Accredited and Registered Schools. The aim of the reforms is to create a clear, understandable public protection framework for accreditation in keeping with the State Bar’s mission. Each provision in the revamped rules describes a specific, measurable action designed to fulfill one or more of these purposes. Prior accreditation requirements that did not further any of these specific purposes were eliminated, and new requirements were added to ensure that schools are meeting these goals.

Read more about the Board of Trustees meeting here, or read the new rules here.

 

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Bar Standards Board publishes independent review of 2020 qualifying exams

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has published the results of an independent review of the August 2020 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) exams, the exams used by the Board as part of the qualification process for barristers. The review was commissioned by the BSB in November 2020 and was conducted by Professor Rebecca Huxley-Binns, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) of the University of Hull and Dr Sarabajaya Kumar, an interdisciplinary social scientist based at University College London, who is also an equalities consultant and a disability activist.

The Review found that candidates experienced a number of different challenges, including difficulty in changing to computer-based assessments and challenges related to online proctoring,  when sitting the examination remotely in August 2020, due to a variety of different factors. Based on these the review makes a number of recommendations, which have been collated by the BSB into an examination action plan, designed to ensure that changes are actioned.  The Action Plan is grouped into five main themes and includes measures to:

  • improve the BSB’s communication and engagement with students and training providers;
  • make the centralised assessments more accessible and inclusive, particularly when candidates require reasonable adjustments;
  • make the BSB’s approach to policy and process development in this area more inclusive by improving the regulator’s engagement with key stakeholders;
  • introduce a critical incidents policy and improve data protection and project management;
  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of the BSB and training providers in the management of the centralised.

Responding to the Review, the Chair of the BSB, Baroness Tessa Blackstone, said

“First and foremost, I should like to apologise again to all those students who faced difficulties completing their exams last August. The BSB had to move from pen and paper based assessments delivered by training providers to arrange computer based assessments in a very short period of time in the middle of a global pandemic. Ordinarily, such a change would have taken at least 12 months to plan and to pilot. I am pleased that the report finds that the BSB was right to seek to offer computer based assessments and right to contract with Pearson VUE to deliver the exams, including to run remote proctoring for the students sitting the exams online and to book testing centre spaces for students unable to take the exams remotely. Around 75% of BPTC exams were completed but far too many students faced difficulties which should never have occurred. The BSB’s staff worked very hard to implement the new arrangements for the exams but we very much regret that many students had a difficult experience both in booking and sitting the exams. The Board has welcomed the Review by Professor Huxley-Binns and Dr Kumar. It has approved the Executive’s proposed Action Plan and will ensure that the Review’s recommendations are put into effect. The Board has discussed the Action Plan with Professor Huxley-Binns and Dr Kumar and they fully endorse the Plan as meeting the recommendations in their Review. I am pleased that the Review found no failure of governance. The Board is determined to ensure that the BSB learns the lessons for the future. Those lessons will be of great help to the BSB and to future students. We are very grateful to all those who have contributed to this Review and I should like once again to repeat my apology to those who had difficulties last August.”

Read the BSB’s comments here, or read the full review here.

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Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System releases guides to cut through bias in legal hiring and improve legal education outcomes

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), has released two new guides designed to explain innovative ways for legal educators and legal employers to implement data-driven, outcomes-based standards underpinned by IAALS’ Foundations for Practice research. The guides are based on  a survey of 24,000 lawyers and working sessions with 36 employers and 4 law schools and aim to provide law schools with a path to train better lawyers and employers a path to hire and retain the best lawyers.

Logan Cornett, IAALS Director of Research has said “The Foundations guides are a natural continuation of Foundations for Practice, launched in 2014. We conducted the largest study of its kind to identify the characteristics, competencies, and skills—what we call foundations—that new lawyers need to be successful. Now, as our country reckons with systemic racism, implicit bias, a shifting economy, and lack of access to justice, the Foundations data and tools provide new ways for the legal profession to rise to the occasion.”

By targeting both legal education and legal employment, Foundations aims to implement wholesale reform. The IAALS has identified what it sees as a cycle of tradition: teaching classes the way they always have been taught and hiring lawyers based on where they went to law school and their class rank. The empirical research of Foundations provides pathways for schools and law firms to evolve and better ensure the success for all new lawyers, but especially for those who are less advantaged because of race, gender, or socioeconomic background.

The Foundations Instructional Design Guide is for educators who want to improve their curriculum by designing and implementing learning outcomes and standards-based assessments. Through close review of course objectives, defining desired learning outcomes from students, and assessments.

The Foundations Hiring Guide is for employers who want to improve their hiring practices—to improve quality, retention, and diversity. Through close review of hiring criteria, designing objective ways to assess candidates for hire, and creating accountability measures.

Read more about the guides here, or access the instructional design guide, or the hiring guide.

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Event: Next steps for legal education and training in England and Wales

June; 29, 2021

Online

This conference will assess the future of legal education and training in England and Wales, as well as ongoing competence in the profession.

The seminar takes place at a time of significant changes in the pathways to qualification for solicitors and barristers, with the new SQE system and new bar training courses.

Delegates will assess progress and unresolved issues since their introduction, and look ahead to what the new courses mean for law as an attractive and accessible profession, and their prospects for supporting the development of new skills needed for the future.

We are pleased to be able to include a keynote session with Julie Brannan, Director, Education and Training, Solicitors Regulation Authority; and Chris Nichols, Director of Policy and Regulation, Legal Services Board; as well as contributions from the Bar Standards Board; BARBRI International; the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx); City Law School; the Criminal Bar Association; the Legal Services Consumer Panel; Mishcon de Reya and Free School Meals Club; MOSAIC Collective; Queen Mary University of London; Reed Smith; and the University of Law.

Overall, areas for discussion include:

the new qualification route for solicitors and new barrister training courses
expanding routes to professional engagement and supporting progression
ongoing competence in the legal profession

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Embedding Graduate Resilience into Legal Education for a Disrupted 21st Century

Abstract

A fundamental role of education in legal education is to ensure that graduates are adequately prepared for professional practice as lawyers. Notwithstanding this aim, it cannot be said that legal education holistically prepares graduates to cope with the complexities of the 21st Century which is characterised by significant change and disruption. Law schools have a key role in building resilience so that graduates can cope with change and disruption in their workplace and profession.

This paper commences with a critical review of the current context, scope and practice of resilience in higher education. Given its dynamic, multidimensional, context and relational nature, resilience has proven to be difficult to translate into effective educational strategies. Much of the work on resilience undertaken in higher education has focused on the provision of supports to students to transition into university and to cope within an academic setting. Narrow conceptions of resilience which focus on perseverance, as opposed to an adaptive and developmental construct, are context specific and likely to be short lived. Given the multidimensional nature of resilience, graduates may not necessarily be able to demonstrate resilience in their professions following graduation. Little is done to specifically build resilience following graduation. The general literature and practices associated with resilience in higher education fail to address how resilience can be enhanced for students after graduation so that they not only cope with the disruptions associated within their professions, but also transform their environments if they so desire.

Using legal education as a case study, the paper discusses how resilience can be enhanced for a disrupted and changing career in the legal profession following graduation. It is advanced that little has been written about how resilience can be enhanced to foster critical consciousness and social and personal transformation to enhance resilience following graduation. Concentrating on the centrality of critical reflection and dialogue, teaching and learning strategies which are grounded in critical and emancipatory pedagogies are suggested to incorporate in legal education as a means of building graduate resilience through social and personal transformation. Strategies and practices outlined in this paper are applicable to other professional degrees.

Susler, Ozlem and Babacan, Alperhan, Embedding Graduate Resilience into Legal Education for a Disrupted 21St Century (January 22, 2021). International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2021,
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Understanding and Interpreting Law School Enrolment Data

Abstract

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) has a long-standing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in legal education and in the legal profession. In line with its mission to promote quality, access, and equity in legal education, LSAC is providing a report, Understanding and Interpreting Law School Enrollment Data: A Focus on Race and Ethnicity, to help law schools, admission professionals, and other legal education stakeholders understand how we are measuring who is in the pipeline. The purpose of the report is to inform conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in law school and recruitment efforts. The report outlines the history of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) data reporting standards, how these differ from LSAC data collection and reporting practices, and the social and cultural implications of different race and ethnicity data collection and reporting methods. The report includes examples of how the different methods affect conclusions that can be drawn from analyses of subgroup trends over time.

Bodamer, Elizabeth and Dustman, Kimberly and Langer, Debra and Walzer, Mark and Camilli, Gregory and Gallagher, Ann, Understanding and Interpreting Law School Enrollment Data (October 15, 2020).
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Wellness and Law: Reforming Legal Education to Support Student Wellness

Abstract

No one goes to law school with the expectation that their mental health and overall well-being will be significantly compromised during those three years. But, for a substantial number of law students, it is. It does not have to be this way.

This is not a typical law review article. It cannot afford to be. Most law students begin law school as reasonably happy and well-adjusted people. We must ask, what is it about law school that contributes to the disproportionate decline in student wellness? The answer to that question is complex because many of the very factors that make good lawyers also contribute to their mental health challenges.

This paper contains a blueprint, borne out of experience, of how to reimagine legal education with a focus on wellness. This goes beyond a general call to action, but rather presents concrete actions that faculty, law administrators, and students themselves can take to effectively manage the stresses inherent in law school and the legal profession. These changes will be long-term and will profoundly impact the well-being of not only legal practitioners, but the very practice of law itself. There will be resistance, but making this transition is crucial. We know that when law students first enter law school their psychological profile is similar to that of the general public, but their depression rates increase drastically across three years of legal education. Lawyers have the dubious distinction of being the most frequently depressed professionals in the U.S., and the legal profession ranks among the highest in incidence of suicide by occupation.

Two recent and major events have exacerbated this already dire landscape of wellness dysfunction: COVID-19 and widespread protests associated with the quest for racial justice. For students who managed their addiction recovery or mental health challenges in part by having the structure and accountability of a classroom setting and nearby counseling services, social distancing threatens those means of coping. Then the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others ignited a wave protests that likely caused some law students to experience race-based and other types of trauma. The absence of a culture of wellness in law schools may lead law students to endure these added traumas in silence.

As other movements have found national and global recognition recently, it is time for a wellness crusade in legal education. Just as movements have galvanized the public to demand action on issues of racial injustice, gender equality, and climate change, so the legal profession must take steps to comprehensively address the wellness crisis spanning the lecture halls to practice. Just as America must be willing to undergo an honest reckoning and radical reforms in order to evolve into a more just and equitable society, law schools and the legal profession must undergo foundational changes in order to graduate healthy and whole students. The reforms outlined in this article not only reimagine the law school experience for thousands of law students, but they would, over time, lead to a qualitative change in the delivery of legal services themselves. The legal profession, indeed our lives, literally depend on it.

Jackson, Janet Thompson, Wellness and Law: Reforming Legal Education to Support Student Wellness (February 15, 2021). Howard Law Journal, Vol. 65, No. 1, 2021,

Available at SSRN

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Recognizing Another Black Barrier: The LSAT Contributes to the Diversity Gap in the Legal Profession

Abstract

Imagine working your entire life with the purpose of building the house of your dreams. The ability to pursue this “calling” has been granted through your tremendous hard-work and dedication to your craft. In fact, building this dream home has been the final culmination of all that you have worked towards over the past several years. Now imagine, you have successfully built the foundation of the house, and began to lay the pipeline for the plumbing. Just as the plumbing was coming together, there was one exact piece that was missing, a coupling, which would be required to connect the pipes. Since pipelines are the heartbeat of all functionality within a house, without the coupling, the incomplete plumbing may diminish the potential of all that your dream house was meant to become. Thus, hindering the dream.

Similarly to a person that has a dream of becoming a lawyer. The ability to pursue this calling would be directed through the education pipeline. After obtaining an Undergraduate degree through tremendous amount of hard-work and dedication, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a coupling to the next education pipeline, is required for applicants to take when applying to law school. But, what if the LSAT is a faulty coupling that presents a major leak in the education pipeline? This standardize test has revealed years of racial bias from the disturbing score gaps between white and minority applicants. The LSAT has shown to have test biases within the questions that appear in the form of language interpretation, which contains culturally stereotypic language, situations, and structural components. As a result of these biases, there has been a disproportionate amount of lower scores by minorities, which hinders the chances of being accepted into law school. Thus, presenting a leak in the education pipeline that disconnects minorities from achieving their dreams of practicing law.

Because of COVID-19, the Law School Admission Council is offering the LSAT online, remotely proctored in place of being in-person. This unexpected change should bring discussion in today’s society about the overreliance on LSAT performance. Institutions should develop new and equitable means to evaluate an applicant’s ability to do well in law school, without disproportionately excluding minorities. Without admission modifications, minorities will continue to remain at a disadvantage when applying to law school.

McDuffie, Shaniqua Lynee McDuffie, Recognizing Another Black Barrier: The LSAT Contributes to the Diversity Gap in the Legal Profession (April 9, 2021).

Read the full article on SSRN.

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Educating Antiracist Lawyers: The Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws Program at Dickinson Law

Abstract

The year 2020 has forced us, as a nation, to recognize painful realities about systemic racism in our country and our legal system. The fallacies in our founding documents and the vestiges of our slave past are so woven into our national culture that they became hard to see except for those who suffered their daily indignities, hardships, and fears. As legal educators, we must face the role we have played in helping build the machinery of structural racism by supplying generation after generation of those who maintain that machinery and prosper within it. In this critical moment of our country’s history, we, as legal educators, must train and prepare a generation of lawyers to once and for all complete the work of the Civil Rights Movement and purge what remains of racism from our legal system – to build better safeguards to ensure that all of us, everyone, has the equal protection of the laws promised by the 14th Amendment of our Constitution.

This article is one of three interdependent articles authored by Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff. These articles are meant to be read together to chart the vision and implementation for building an Antiracist law school and providing a template for an Antiracist legal academy and legal profession. This first article, Danielle Conway, Bekah Saidman-Krauss, and Rebecca Schreiber, “Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success” can be downloaded on from SSRN. The third in this series is Amy Gaudion, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator’s View on Adopting an Anti-Racist Curriculum.”

As educators, we must recognize our unique opportunity and important responsibility to combat racism in our educational mission. We must do more than transfer legal knowledge and skills to our students. We must cultivate within them, a principled, enduring commitment to work for true equality over the course of their careers and practice law in a way that promotes equal treatment of all. To do this we must reconsider not only what we teach, but how we teach it.

This essay sets out one possibility. It describes the Race and Equal Protection of the Laws program at Penn State Dickinson Law. This innovative program draws from Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy to develop an educational approach with the objective of transforming how our students see their place and role in our evolving, flawed democracy. It incorporates the work of Critical Race Theory to help students understand the root causes of systemic racism and why the landmark decisions of the Civil Rights Movement have not realized their potential to change the lived experience of Blacks and people of Color. It adapts principles of Shared Praxis, an approach to teaching grounded in Critical Pedagogy that guides students to a deepening consciousness of the problem, explores with them sources of law and justice that can be brought to bear, and invites them to develop their own carefully considered response as law students and as lawyers.
During this yearlong course, students will learn and work as co-investigators with faculty members and other students to better understand the relationship between race and different areas of the law including housing, health care, criminal justice, democracy, capitalism and education.

Groome, Dermot, Educating Antiracist Lawyers: The Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws Program at Dickinson Law (March 5, 2021). Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Forthcoming.

Read the full article on SSRN.

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The Future of Legal Education in the 21st Century

Abstract

Technological progress will continue to fundamentally alter how we relate to each other and to our work, necessarily shaping the future of legal education. In considering its future direction, this article contemplates various perspectives regarding the purpose of legal education, and the pressures that may be brought to bear on pedagogical practices as a result of current and emerging technologies. Situating these considerations within the broader commentary regarding the future of work and the role of human beings in an age of automation, this article argues that the nature and type of skills taught to future lawyers, as well as the substantive knowledge relevant in the 21st century, will depend upon the irreducible value of human beings to the law and legal processes. Tasks that require creativity, complex reasoning or social intelligence (such as the ability to negotiate complex social relationships effectively) will remain the province of human beings. This must inform and shape legal education. Consequently, this article argues that the future of legal education is one that recognizes lawyers will increasingly be required to attain a broad, liberal education enabling interdisciplinary insights, creativity and social intelligence.

Goldsworthy, Daniel, The Future of Legal Education in the 21st Century (2020). (2020) 41(1) Adelaide Law Review 243.

Read the full article on SSRN.

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