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Update From the Managing Director: Transition Time in Legal Education

       William E. Adams

William E. Adams

William E. Adams
Managing Director

As has been publicly announced, I will be retiring at the end of May.  I officially assumed the role of Managing Director as most will recall at the beginning of lockdowns around the world in response to an unprecedented pandemic. Not the most opportune time to begin my tenure. It has been a time of disruption in many places, including in legal education. The disruptions extend beyond the pandemic as well. 

Legal education has adjusted to the changed conditions with the guidance and help of the Council. Partially as a result of the limitations caused by the pandemic, distance education has expanded dramatically in ways that were not anticipated prior to that calamitous event. In addition to continuing to offer more remote learning classes post-pandemic, the Council has now approved nineteen schools that offer degrees completely or nearly completely online. More schools are considering such programs. Assessments from the approved programs show that students are making similar progress in online programs as the schools’ residential programs.

The Council also formed a Strategic Review Committee (SRC) to conduct a review of all of its Standards and Rules as mandated by the United States Department of Education. The Committee worked diligently and made several changes. Those have been covered in prior columns and won’t be repeated here.

Although the SRC has completed its work, it has handed off some issues to the Standards Committee, which has added some of its own which will require further study this year. Pursuant to requests from multiple constituencies, the Council will continue to study what Standards and Rules would need to be amended to permit a fully online law school without a residential component to apply for approval. It will also need to study what, if any, revisions are needed to the diversity standards to comply with the Students for Fair Admissions case. Another proposal that has received numerous comments is the one that covers the learning outcomes and assessment standards. The Council has also conducted a survey on whether to expand the experiential credits requirement and it will study the results as it contemplates whether such a change is merited. It will also continue to work on the expansion of job protection for full-time faculty currently without it, in order to protect the academic freedom, as that concept is being tested by various groups.

In addition to these issues which the Standards Committee is currently working on, there are other issues that will need to be addressed as well. It will watch and contribute if asked to the work of the Committee on Legal Education and Admission Reform recently formed by the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators. Part of that group’s mission is to study the need for law schools to produce “practice-ready” graduates which is obviously related to the Council’s study of the need for increased experiential credit requirements. Both the profession and legal education will be forced to consider what adjustments will need to be made as a result of the impact that artificial intelligence will have on the practice of law. As always, the Council will continue to assess to what extent the Standards contribute to the cost of legal education and whether the benefit from those requirements justify the expenses. The Council will also watch to see if the Supreme Court affirmative action opinion will slow the progress made to diversity of the profession and whether it can mitigate any such detrimental impact.

I am not the only person leaving a leadership position in the legal education world. Judy Areen will be retiring from her position as Executive Director and CEO of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). A long-time leader in legal education, her contributions have been too extensive to summarize. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to collaborate with her. Also leaving her current position is the President and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, Kellye Testy. Kellye will not be retiring, however, as she will assume the position currently held by Judy. Her brilliance and creativity will ensure that AALS continues to be a vital part of the world of legal education. I am also heartened that my position is going to be filled by a brilliant, creative, and energetic leader, Jennifer Rosato Perea. Jennifer’s extensive experience as a law school dean and professor will serve her well in my position. We have been meeting regularly since her selection in November and I am confident that she will begin fully prepared to lead our Section for years to come. I will watch with interest as these organizations continue under new leadership.

There is not enough space for me to express my appreciation to all of the persons who have assisted me with this position during this challenging time. First, I am grateful to my predecessor, Barry Currier, who chose me to be Deputy Director when it would have been easy to select someone else. I also would not have been given the opportunity to experience the positions that I have held without the advice and support of one of my mentors, Professor Emeritus of Law and Dean Emeritus, Joe Harbaugh. I have also been extremely lucky to work with an exceptional group of Council Chairs, Bridget McCormack, Scott Bales, Joe West, Leo Martinez, and the late Diane Bosse. Each of these brilliant attorneys and legal educators have provided wise counsel and support as they led the Council. I also have been fortunate to work with a wonderful group of professionals on the Council since I have been working in the office. I admire their tireless dedication to improving legal education. It has been one of my biggest pleasures to work with the Council over the years. The other immense pleasure of being in this position is working with the amazingly talented staff who have made it a pleasure to come to the office. It is a terrific group and all that has gone well in the office is primarily due to their work. It has been an honor to hold this position, even during these challenging times, and I look forward to watching all of the individuals mentioned above continue to strive to improve legal education.

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