By H. Reese Hansen

I want to begin my comments tonight by expressing my deep gratitude for the honor and privilege of serving this year as president of the Association of American Law Schools. My first experience with AALS was in the 1970’s at an annual meeting held in New Orleans. I enjoyed New Orleans then, and I am glad to be back this year, particularly to see the city’s recovery, so far, from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Over my now rather long professional life as a law professor and dean, I have had many opportunities to work with and come to know scores, even hundreds, of people in legal education. I am very proud to say that I am a law professor. I really believe I have the best job in the world, both because I am convinced the work of training lawyers is very important and because I love the people and ideas that fill my work days. My work with the professionals and volunteers in the Association has enriched my life and been the basis of many cherished friendships. I am profoundly grateful for the Association and for the people who do its work so well. It has been my privilege to serve on the Executive Committee of the Association under the leadership of four outstanding presidents: Judith Areen, Nancy Rogers, John Garvey, and Rachel Moran. Each of them has provided remarkable and distinguished guidance to the work of the Association. Particularly tonight, I want to express special gratitude to Rachel Moran for her wonderful leadership during her presidential year which concludes at the close of this annual meeting. I want also to acknowledge the important contributions of Joe Knight and Lauren Robel whose terms on the Executive Committee also conclude with this annual meeting, along with John Garvey who retires from the Executive Committee as past-president of the Association. I extend a warm welcome to Professors Dorothy Brown, from Emory, and Ann Shalleck, from American University, who tonight become new members of the Executive Committee. And congratulations to Michael Olivas, from the University of Houston Law Center, our new president-elect.

It is important to publicly acknowledge the indispensable work of the remarkable professional staff of the Association. I was privileged to be on the search committee that recommended Susan Prager to the Executive Committee to become our Executive Director, succeeding Carl Monk who had served legal education so well for so many years. I thought then that Susan would be an extraordinary leader. She has exceeded my very high expectations. I testify that we are in good hands with Susan. We are blessed to have the benefit of her steady guidance, thoughtful advice, remarkable judgment, hard work, and gracious personal touch in her duties as Executive Director.

I also wish to acknowledge Professor Elizabeth Patterson of Georgetown who returned to AALS for a second time as Deputy Director this year at the conclusion of David Brennen’s service. Ginger has given, once again, distinguished service of the very highest order to the Association.

Meanwhile, of course, Jane La Barbera, our Managing Director, has been the glue that has kept it all together, especially in the past year and a half of transition. Jane is, simply put, irreplaceable. It is impossible to overstate the value of her contributions to the Association.

Beyond those I have named who provide such strong leadership, I am deeply grateful for the extra-ordinary staff who work amazingly hard and effectively in getting everything done so very well. One clear piece of evidence of their wonderful work is this conference which has been such a great experience for all of us.

2009 has been a year of significant transition in the Association and very large challenges to our member law schools. Under the pressures of change and especially difficult challenges it is sometimes difficult to step away from the press of the immediate demands of day to day work to take a longer view and to maintain focus on the things that matter most. During 2010, with the special economic and other challenges legal education is facing I will be stressing the importance of maintaining focus on the things that have made U.S. legal education the model and envy of the world. And so tonight I will speak of principles to guide us.

The Association Bylaws articulate the core values of the Association and provide guidance in the Association’s activities and to our member schools.1 The core values of AALS emphasize excellent class room teaching across a rigorous academic curriculum. They focus on the importance of faculty scholarship, academic freedom, and diversity of viewpoints. The core values also establish an expectation that member schools will value faculty governance and instill in our students commitments to justice and to public service in the legal community. All of these objectives are to be supported in an environment free of discrimination and rich in diversity among faculty, staff, and student body. These core values combine to provide an environment where students have opportunity to study law in an intellectually vibrant institution capable of preparing them for professional lives as lawyers instilled with a sense of justice and an obligation of public service. In this environment our students are exposed to the best kinds thinking in a culture of learning from a talented and engaged faculty and from fellow students who enrich the learning environment in and out of the classroom.

President Rachel Moran, in addressing the Council of the ABA Section on Legal Education in Chicago last July, made the point in this way: “Without question, leadership in the field of law inherently depends on responding to changing conditions. That said, in evaluating proposed reforms, we must always keep in sharp focus the core values that guide us. These core values are commitments that define us as a discipline and as a profession. They lend coherence to our vision for the future, while they respect institutional pluralism and encourage innovation.”2

No one can doubt that the financial challenges to our member schools, resulting from the financial melt-down in the U.S. economy, are large indeed. The length of time it will take for the U.S. economy to fully recover is impossible to accurately predict. But however long it takes, additional time will be required for law schools to recover the financial base which has, until rather recently, underpinned legal education. There are some signs that for many law schools there will not be a complete return to the financial base of the past.

Meanwhile, reductions in financial support from state legislatures and shrinking endowments have already put unprecedented financial pressure on law schools in meeting their obligations to students and the profession. Almost all law schools are dealing with budget cuts which have produced a variety of cost saving strategies including hiring freezes, travel restrictions, program and course offering reductions, and even salary reductions and layoffs. Revenue shortfalls are being offset, in part, by larger than usual tuition increases at many schools, especially state supported law schools. These super-sized tuition increases will certainly put additional burdens on our students because many of them will have to undertake even more borrowing to finance law school. The just published Law School Survey of Student Engagement reports that nearly one third (29%) of our students expect to leave law school owing more than $120,000 in law school debt.3

Simultaneously, the shrinking job market in the profession and shrinking salaries for our graduates place increased pressures on our students, many of whom wonder if they will be able to find employment in the profession – which is in the middle of an industrial restructuring of its own. Students and graduates worry about their ability to repay loans they have undertaken to finance their legal educations. This heightened anxiety in our student bodies and difficulties in obtaining professional employment are certain to demand even more from law schools in providing student support services.

Many voices now warn prospective law students that going to law school is an unwise investment in time and money.4 While there seems to be little evidence yet that potential law school applicants are heeding such warnings, the longer we are in the trough of the recession, the more likely it becomes that the decline in professional employment opportunities and high law school tuitions will reduce the demand for legal education. It seems likely that law schools are going to have to find ways to reduce costs in order to check the rate of increase in tuitions.

At the same time financial conditions in our economy have changed the kind of legal services clients are seeking and the ways those services are being delivered to them. Law schools are going to have to adapt to the changing face of the legal profession in order to prepare our students to enter the profession. These are challenging times, indeed. Many feel the worst days are not yet behind us.

Other events raise additional potential challenging issues for the legal academy. I will mention just two such matters in these remarks.

1) The Standards Review Committee of the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is in the process of revising existing ABA Accreditation Standards in some important ways. Some of these changes will be more than merely cosmetic, as you may have gathered from yesterday’s Executive Committee Forum with the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar where some of these proposed changes were discussed. The work of the Student Learning Outcomes Subcommittee of the Standards Review Committee is guided by the ABA’s Report of the Outcome Measures Committee5 and has as its objective the examination of the existing Standards for the purpose of requiring greater emphasis on the development of meaningful outcome measures and assessment of student learning in those outcomes. Work is also being done on the Standards dealing with law school governance6 and academic freedom and security of position7 as well as others.

Because the work of the Standards Review Committee will potentially have important impacts on law schools, I will be establishing a special work group to advise the Executive Committee on the impacts law schools might expect from the proposed revisions of the accreditation standards and on recommendations the Association can make to the ABA in connection with its work in revising the standards.

2) Because of the rapidly growing importance of international law and of better understanding and cooperation in legal education across national borders, last August the Executive Committee authorized the formation of a special work group for the purpose of examining what roles our Association ought to be playing in the international arena. I am pleased to announce tonight that Judith Areen, former president of the Association and just named acting dean at Georgetown University Law Center, will chair this work group. That Judy is willing to undertake this work in her current, otherwise very demanding schedule, is a testament of the importance of the task. The work group will have the benefit of the good work done by the Special Committee on International Cooperation which concluded its work in December and which helped build an important foundation and vision for our thinking. Moving forward, it is important that the work of AALS in the international area addresses the needs of our member law schools and more clearly focuses the international objectives of the Association. We will, of course, have in mind our cooperative and important relationship with the International Association of Law Schools. I look forward to working with Judy in appointing the membership of the work group and receiving their recommendations.

In the face of the multitude of challenges law schools are facing, I believe it is more important than perhaps it has ever been that our collective thinking and planning be guided by sure principles that keep us focused on the things that matter most. The Association’s core values have provided that kind of certain guidance for law schools in providing the optimum opportunity for the establishment of an environment where teacher/scholars can best mentor students to understand the important role law plays in our complex society and to prepare our students to enter the legal profession.

Furthermore, the core values establish the climate where faculty can make the greatest contributions in our society – make it possible for law faculty members to provide transformative scholarship and transformative teaching as President Rachel Moran described them.8 This environment is only possible where faculty are free to experiment with curricula and with teaching methods, have freedom of intellectual exploration and freedom to make critiques on the law and on social policy, and are institutionally completely invested for the long haul.

In these comments, I want to briefly highlight two of our core values that seem to me to be particularly at risk in these challenging times. Others of the core values will be subjects for further discussion in the coming year.

Many have made thoughtful and compelling cases regarding the importance of diversity in the learning environment in our law schools,9 and the importance of diversity in the profession and the judiciary to the most effective delivery of justice in our society.10 Over the past score or so of years we have made noteworthy progress in this critically important area. But we still have a great deal of work to do.

Since the turn of the 21st century, the number of JD students enrolled in our law schools has increased by nearly 18,000,11 but the portion of all law school students who are African American has declined.12 Similarly, the percentage of our students who are Mexican American is down, as is the percentage of Puerto Rican students in our student bodies.13

It is an obvious point that diversity in our student bodies enriches the learning environment for all students because voices from diverse cultures, races, and life experiences, bring different and important perspectives into the discussion. I wish, however, to add an additional point on the importance of access to education, in our case legal education, to all segments of our society.

I believe it is widely accepted as true that education provides a primary pathway out of poverty and into the advantages of self-sufficiency and full participation in our society. In addition, because lawyers and the legal profession have the best access to the levers of influence and power in our society, it is of highest importance that those levers be within the grasp of everyone, without regard to their economic or social status.

In the context of shrinking budgets, tuition increases, and pressure to rise in the US News rankings, it is tempting to devote greater portions of available financial aid resources to attract students with the highest LSAT scores, rather than to provide financial support to qualified students on the basis of need. Funding for this strategy works to the detriment of qualified applicants who are the most financially challenged and who are, most often, members of diverse races and cultures.

Such strategic choices exacerbate the already existing inequality of opportunity for legal education and they increase the distinctions between those who are wealthy enough to go to law school and those who are not.

As stewards at the gateway into the legal profession, I believe it is our duty to do all that we can do to eliminate or minimize the economic barriers to entry into the profession which many persons already face. It is in the best interest of our country and our society to do all we can do to make equality of opportunity a reality for all who are intellectually qualified for law study. The AALS Executive Committee “Statement on Diversity, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action” adopted in 1995, states my point in this way:

“. . . [L]egal education still has a long road to travel to produce a truly diverse profession prepared to meet the needs of American society. The challenge is thus to develop an educational community—and ultimately an America—where all of us can work together and learn from each other in a climate of mutual trust. Hard times bring out fears, but they can also call forth from persons of goodwill the best qualities that lie within them. The AALS is confident that the faculty and students of its member schools will meet that challenge with wisdom and understanding.”14

As the needs of our society change, the demands on the profession evolve and change. It is critically important that the legal academy make changes in the things we teach and the way we teach them and in the focus of our scholarship. Especially in recent years, many law schools have undertaken important curricular and programmatic revisions to address the needs of the profession. In particular, for example, law schools have increased the amount of, and improved the manner in which, professional skills are taught in our law schools. Most schools are formally addressing the challenges of globalization of our economy, international commerce and international cooperation. During the past year President Moran has highlighted some of the important transformative scholarship that has been recently produced.15

It is clear to me that moving forward, in the face of the headwinds of our economic challenges, and the fundamental changes underway in the profession into which we are graduating our students, and considering the likelihood of changes in accreditation standards, that the most careful strategic planning undertaken in our lifetimes is going to be required in all of our schools. Law school faculties and deans will have to marshal their very best efforts to manage the required changes within the limitations of budgets. Making those changes while also staying focused on institutional goals and our core values increases the difficulty of making the strategic choices that will have to be made.

I think it is safe to say that the need has never been greater than it is now to remain steadfast in preserving the Association’s core value of faculty governance. It is precisely because there are no ready or easy answers on what is best for our students and our profession that we must call upon our collective best thinking to shape the changes we are being called upon to make. The kind of creativity required to find good answers to these, and other, challenges will not come alone from the profession, or from deans’ offices, or from faculty work. It will take thoughtful, deliberate, and full collaboration from all of these groups to get to where we need to be. I do not think it will be easy, but working together we can do it. I have a complete confidence that our law schools will effectively address the challenges we face. I am optimistic about our future.

Now, as I conclude my remarks this evening I wish to report that in the past several weeks, it has been my pleasure to ask many faculty members to accept appointment to the many committees of the Association. I have been delighted to sense the enthusiasm with which those who have been asked to give an extra measure of service have been willing to do so. Much of the important work of the Association is done by scores and scores of volunteers who give their time for the advancement of the legal academy. I want, now, to publically thank all who have served so well and who are concluding their committee or section service for now. And I welcome with a sense of tremendous appreciation the new members who have agreed to serve. Thank you for all you have done and will do on behalf of the Association. I am looking forward to the coming year and am grateful for the privilege of working with you on behalf of the legal profession and the legal academy.

 
  1. Bylaws of the Association of American Law Schools 6-1 in Association of American Law Schools 2009 Handbook 36 (2009)(core values).
  2. Rachel F. Moran, President, Ass’n of Am Law Sch., Remarks Made to the Council of the ABA Section on Legal Education, Chicago, Illinois (July 31, 2009)(on file with author).
  3. LSEE Law School Survey of Student Engagement, 2009 Annual Survey Results, Student Engagement in Law School: Enhancing Student Learning 14 (2009),http://lsee.iub.edu/pdf/LSSE_Annual_Report_2009_forWeb.pdf.
  4. See Law.com Legal Blog Watch, http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/ (last visited Jan. 27, 2010).
  5. American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, Report of the Outcome Measures Committee (July 27, 2008 ),http://www.abanet.org/legaled/committees/subcomm/Outcome%20Measures%20Final%Report.pdf.
  6. ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools Standards 201-213 (2009-2010).
  7. ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools Standards 401-405 (2009-2010).
  8. Rachel Moran, Transformative Teaching:  From the Classroom to the Culture, AALS Newsl., Nov. 2009, at 1.
  9. See, e.g., Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978); Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).
  10. SeeStatement on Diversity, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, in Association of American Law Schools 2009 Handbook 92 (2009) (adopted by AALS Executive Committee, November 1995).
  11. American Bar Association Statistics, http://www.abanet.org/legaled/stats/stats.html (last visited Jan. 27, 2010).
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. The percentage of both African American and Mexican American students enrolled in law schools in 1995 was greater than the 2008 percentages.  See, American Bar Association Statistics,http://www.abanet.org/legaled/stats/stats.html (last visited Jan. 27, 2010).
  15. Statement on Diversity, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, in Association of American Law Schools 2009 Handbook 93 (2009) (adopted by AALS Executive Committee, Nov.1995).
  16. Rachel F. Moran, President, Ass’n of Am. Law Sch., Remarks Made to the Council of the ABA Section on Legal Education, Chicago, Illinois, (July 31, 2009) (on file with author).   See also AALS Newsl., Aug. 2009.