The State Bar is beginning to explore a radical change to what it takes to become a lawyer in California: requiring would-be attorneys to receive practical training with real clients before they can be licensed.
“The basic concept is that before they begin serving clients, lawyers ought to have some real-world experience,” State Bar President Jon Streeter said Tuesday.
Acting during its annual planning meeting Friday and Saturday, the bar Board of Trustees agreed to create a broadly based task force to “explore adding a pre-admission practical skills requirement … to the requirements for admission to the bar.” …
Streeter said the proposed admissions requirement “is still a concept in its infancy.” The ideas up for consideration include allowing law school clinical courses to meet all or part of the requirement, he said, or having “the equivalent of a legal residency” similar to new doctors.
Jeanine English, a nonlawyer member of the board, said another approach might be the method used in accounting. People who have passed the CPA exam work two to four years for a fully licensed certified public accountant, who closely supervises their work.
Legal educators and other experts seemed cautiously intrigued by the general idea.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Drucilla Stender Ramey, dean of Golden Gate University School of Law and the former longtime director of the Bar Association of San Francisco. “My sense is law firms would welcome it.” …
Berkeley Law School clinical Professor Charles D. Weisselberg said cutting law school down to two years to devote the third year to practice experience would run afoul of American Bar Association accreditation standards. But adding a fourth year would put too great a burden on students.
Law school critic and blogger Kyle P. McEntee noted that California law students already pay $40,000 or $50,000 a year in tuition.
McEntee, founder and executive director of the nonprofit group Law School Transparency, said he believes a practice requirement might be a good idea, but he isn’t sure “whether it’s a Band-Aid … or a bigger solution” to the problems of legal education.
He said he supports an idea posted in a blog late last month by University of Texas law professor Matthew Spitzer, a former dean of USC Gould School of Law, that would allow law students or graduates to earn money while obtaining practical experience.
Spitzer proposed “law schools having a law firm (just as medical schools have hospitals) where students start to learn how to practice under lawyer-professors, who both provide training and who charge clients for their services.”