Legal profession racing to navigate through storm

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IBJ’s [Feb 9] coverage of the continuing decline in law school enrollments rightly highlights the challenges confronting both the schools and law graduates. I see evidence that these developments may prompt a period of accelerated reform.

Concerned about the impact of these trends on both the legal profession and the public, the American Bar Association created a presidential commission, the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, to assess how the schools and the profession should move forward.

I have served as the chair of the task force, and after nearly two years we have issued a final report, “Navigating Through a Storm.” The group’s reporter was dean Jay Conison, formerly of Valparaiso University and now dean at Charlotte Law in North Carolina.

We’ve suggested actions that law schools, the accreditors, bar associations and courts could take to make law school and legal services more accessible and less expensive. Broadly speaking, we’ve suggested reordering financial aid, lighter regulation of law schools to foster ingenuity in curriculum, further movement toward practical education, and alternative legal education and licensing.

There are many people with their shoulder to the wheel on such reforms. Notre Dame’s courses for law students on informatics and Indiana University’s McKinney School’s one-year master’s program are excellent examples. The New York courts have changed their bar exam schedule to give law graduates a faster start into the job market, and the Washington Supreme Court has created a program for limited practice by people with shorter and inexpensive specialized education.

There is certainly a public interest in thoughtful reform. After all, we live in a moment when far too many Americans need legal help but cannot afford it.

My own hope is that we in the profession can be nimble enough to build new and improved ways for lawyers to serve our fellow citizens.

Randall T. Shepard, retired chief justice of Indiana

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