Twenty Years After the MacCrate Report: A Review of the Current State of the Legal Education Continuum and the Challenges Facing the Academy, Bar and Judiciary

Volume 44 Number 4


    When the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar formed the MacCrate Task Force on “Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap” almost twenty-five years ago, there was a general perception that there was a “gap between the teaching and practice segments of the profession.”[1] As the Task Force explained in the Introduction to its report:

    It has long been apparent that law schools cannot reasonably be expected to shoulder the task of converting even very able students into full-fledged lawyers licensed to handle legal matters. Thus a gap develops between the expectation and the reality, resulting in complaints and recriminations from legal educators and practicing lawyers.[2]

    After extensive study of the then-existing state of the systems for preparing new members of the legal profession for practice, the Task Force concluded that the apparent “gap” was more a function of perception than reality, “reflect[ing] an unwillingness of the academy and the practicing bar fully to understand the culture, needs, aspirations, value systems, and accomplishments of each community.”[3] The Task Force conducted an “in-depth survey to document the full extent of [law school] curriculum development in the skills training area, and the availability of such resources to students,” and found that, contrary to the perception of a “‘gap’ between legal education and the needs of the profession,” law schools made a “major commitment of resources . . . to the development of skills training programs.”[4]

    Now, two decades after the issuance of the MacCrate Report, there is once again a public perception of a problematic gap between legal education and legal practice. In the past couple of years, articles have appeared in various media sources, criticizing law schools for their alleged failure to do enough to prepare students for legal practice, and reporting law firms’ complaints about the quality of legal education.[5]

    As was the case in the pre-MacCrate era, the criticisms of legal education are based mostly on anecdote rather than empirical research and often overlook or give short shrift to the many important ways in which the academy actually does prepare students for legal practice. Moreover, these criticisms often fail to bring to bear the crucial, systemic perspective that the MacCrate Report presented: that the processes of education and training of new members of the legal profession are best viewed as a “continuum that starts before law school, reaches its most formative and intensive stage during the law school experience, and continues throughout a lawyer’s professional career.”[6]

    This Report attempts to present a more nuanced view of the current state of the professional educational continuum and the challenges currently facing the academy, bar, and judiciary. The Report begins by briefly reviewing the MacCrate Report’s vision, content, and impact. The Report then examines the current state of the professional educational continuum and the challenges that loom.

[1] ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, Legal Education and Professional Development – An Educational Continuum (Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap) 5 (1992) (hereafter cited as “MacCrate Report”).

[2] Id. at 4.

3] Id.

[4] Id. at 6.

[5] See, e.g., David Segal, What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering, N.Y. Times, Nov. 20, 2011, at 1. See also, e.g., Michele Goodwin, Law Schools’ Failure to Prepare Students ... It’s Complicated, Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 13, 2011 (describing “[r]ecent reports in The New York Times, Washington Post, and other national media” of law firms’ “claim[s] that law students are not prepared to perform basic tasks such as drafting contracts, negotiating mergers, and other key features of law practice”).

[6] MacCrate Report, supra note 1, at 3.

Special Committee on the Professional Education Continuum
Dean Mary Lu Bilek
Diane Camper
Dean Roger J. Dennis
Associate Dean Robert D. Dinerstein
Professor Bryant G. Garth
Professor Laura N. Gasaway
Dean Phoebe A. Haddon
Vice Dean Randy Hertz (Chair)
Rebecca S. Thiem, Esq.

March 20, 2013

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