This was a full year for the Association of American Law Schools. We worked to improve our professional development offerings at the Conference on Clinical Legal Education, the Workshop for New Law Teachers, the Workshop for Pretenured Law School Teachers of Color, and the Annual Meeting. In order to be a more effective learned society for law faculty, we reached out to the chairs of the 101 sections of AALS to ensure better programming at the Annual Meeting, as well as to encourage sections to make greater use of their websites and discussion lists throughout the year to improve scholarship and teaching in their fields of interest.
AALS also continued our efforts to revamp the membership review process by emphasizing peer review and focusing on the core values of the Association.
This year AALS completed the first comprehensive review in decades of the Executive Committee Regulations in order to bring them into compliance with the revised AALS Bylaws that were adopted at last year’s meeting of the House of Representatives. We also conducted the first survey of the entire membership in order to better understand which services are most important to members. Finally, we continued to work on our expanded mission of showcasing the innovations and accomplishments of member law schools for policymakers, leaders of the bar and bench, the media, prospective law students, and the general public.
What follows are some particular highlights of the work we have undertaken this year.
Professional Development Enhancements
AALS continued to work on keeping costs down for Annual Meeting attendees, and on improving the experience of those who attend the meeting. The 110th AALS Annual Meeting was held from January 6 to January 10, 2016. For the first time, AALS provided a 50 percent discount on the meeting fee for new faculty and retired faculty. AALS was able to negotiate room rates below $200 a night. An opening plenary replaced the Association lunch, thereby making it possible for attendees to hear the keynote speakers without being required to pay for a hotel lunch.
For this (2017) meeting, we kept room rates below $175, and again offered a 50 percent discount on the meeting fee to new and retired faculty.
At the 2016 Annual Meeting, a coffee was held for the first time for leaders from the New York area bar and bench. They were also invited to attend any other meeting sessions held that day without charge. We similarly invited members of the bar and bench in Northern California to attend tomorrow’s sessions. The goal is to build better bridges between the academy and the bar and bench.
This year we again set aside a number of time slots for programs designed for new law teachers, and held an orientation session for first-time meeting attendees. For only the second time, the Workshop for Pretenured Law School Teachers of Color is being held at the Annual Meeting. We found last year that by moving the Workshop from spring to the Annual Meeting, attendance nearly tripled.
Improving Services to Sections
Sections are the primary contact most faculty have with AALS. Our 101 sections have almost 10,000 law school faculty and professional staff as members. We continued to streamline the process for section chairs to report the topic of their program at the Annual Meeting and to provide information about their speakers. A new periodic email communication, The Section Counselor, was sent to all section chairs and chairs-elect. The goal was to provide original content and other resources to increase the level of member engagement and intellectual vitality of sections (e.g., calls for papers, newsletters, online discussion groups, section websites and symposia). In addition, the sections page on the AALS website now includes an online library of member resources that is easily accessible by section officers and members. The goal of all these changes was to reduce paperwork for section chairs, and to encourage them to develop programs that will increase the quality of scholarship and teaching in their field of interest.
Improving Membership Review and Services for Deans
AALS, at the direction of the Executive Committee, revamped the membership review process over the past three years to focus more on core values, particularly on scholarship, teaching, shared governance, and diversity, including diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints. We also restructured the membership review process so that it relies more on peer advice and less on requiring additional reports from schools. The goal of the changes was to make AALS membership review more useful, and less of a burden, to member schools.
For the past several years AALS devoted considerable time and resources to better serving deans. We established the Deans Forum for deans of all member and fee paid schools to provide a structure for them to work together on issues of mutual importance. A Steering Committee of 14 deans enables deans to work on important projects between Annual Meetings. The 2017 Steering Committee is chaired by Dan Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. He has established several subcommittees to work on such pressing matters as the growing number of state bar requirements, the decline in many jurisdictions of bar passage, and to assess ABA Standards on behalf of deans.
Serving as a Voice for Legal Education
AALS continued to work on improving its website and social media channels. The home page of the website showcases the innovations and accomplishments of law schools. A new section illuminates the many pro bono and community service activities of law school students and faculty. Website users may now sign up to receive weekly emails from AALS that contain each week’s compiled news stories. A calendar of upcoming symposia at member law schools and a newsroom section to enable media to link quickly to law schools and faculty are other features of aals.org.
The efforts of AALS to repair the reputation of legal education go far beyond the website. We make extensive use of social media to provide the various audiences of policy makers, media, and prospective law students with more accurate information about legal education today. National reporters typically follow at most a handful of schools. AALS retweets and reposts material that showcases developments at law schools to make it accessible to a national audience. By expanding our social media footprint, AALS has become a major resource for the national media to learn about innovations at law schools across the country.
As part of this effort, AALS launched a project to calculate annually how much law school students contribute to the delivery of much-needed legal services through clinics, experiential course, and pro bono activities. The first survey found that 17,900 students in the class of 2016 contributed more than 2.2 million hours in legal services as part of their legal education. Independent Sector, a nonprofit organizations, estimates the value of this volunteer time to be $23.56 an hour. At this rate, students in the class of 2016 contributed more than $52.2 million worth of legal services.
Directory of Law Teachers
AALS has published a Directory of Law Teachers since 1921. Now that the Directory is back on schedule and being printed each fall, members are relying on it again—and noticing things that they need to update in their biographies. We hope this means that the DLT will become more accurate each year and will enable AALS to collect and analyze a range of statistical information that may be of use to law schools.
We have also added an extensive online component to the Directory, accessible upon logging into dlt.aals.org, so law faculty can search the directory by names and by subjects taught.
Completion of Comprehensive Review of AALS Executive Committee Regulations
Beginning in 2014, the Executive Committee of AALS undertook a comprehensive review of the AALS Bylaws, the first in several decades. At its January 2016 meeting, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted proposed changes to the bylaws. During 2016, the Executive Committee revised the Executive Committee Regulations to ensure they conform with the revised bylaws.
A New Initiative: The Before the JD Project
Perhaps the most pressing problem confronting most law schools today is the drop in the quality as well as the size of the national applicant pool. There has been a more than 36 percent drop in the pool over the past five years. The total was up this fall, but only slightly. Not only has there been a sharp decline in size, but the mix of LSAT scores of applicants has also dropped, with the biggest drop among students with higher LSAT scores.
In response to these trends, AALS organized a Before the JD Project. It will survey and use focus groups to study the opinions of current students at four-year colleges and universities about legal education and the legal profession. We have forged alliances with the other leading legal education organizations to conduct the project including the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and the American Bar Foundation. The Access Group, LSAC, and NALP have joined the effort and provided major grants to support the costs of the survey and focus groups. We also established a group of academic advisors with experience in empirical research that includes Bryant Garth, Ronit Denovitzer, Debra Hensler, Ajay Mehrotra, and Jerome Organ. Our goal is to understand why interest in legal education has been declining despite steady or increasing interest in medicine, engineering, and other professions. We will also discover what are the primary sources of information and advice about law and legal education used by college students.
In June, Regina Burch completed her third and final year of outstanding service to AALS. Elizabeth (Ginger) Patterson became Associate Director on July 1, 2016, a position she has held twice previously. A 1973 graduate of the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, Ginger practiced law with Hogan and Hartson in Washington, D.C. early in her career. She joined the faculty of Georgetown University Law Center in 1980 where she served as Associate Dean for the JD and Graduate Programs from 1993-1997. She retired from the Georgetown faculty in 2013.
Jeff Allum was recruited in September to serve as Director of the Before the JD Project. He came to AALS from the Council of Graduate Schools where as Assistant Vice President, Research and Policy Analysis, he managed a national survey of graduate enrollment and researched career outcomes.
In November of 2015, AALS appointed Mary Dillon Kerwin as its first Director of Development. The goal was to keep dues increases and meeting fees as small as possible during this challenging time for our member schools. Mary brought to AALS 20 years of experience in fundraising for nonprofits. There have already been noticeable improvements in fundraising. Twelve major law firms (Arnold & Porter, Covington, Cravath, K & L Gates, O’Melveny, Paul Weiss, Proskauer, Sidley Austin, Sullivan & Cromwell, Wachtell, WilmerHale, and Williams & Connolly) and three law departments (Clorox, Microsoft, and Starbucks) have become supporters of our work in support of American legal education.
In addition, Annual Meeting sponsorships nearly tripled in 2016. The number of sponsors increased as well, from seven to 15 sponsorships. These funds help to offset meeting costs and enhance the meeting experience for attendees.
In closing, I want to report what an honor it continues to be to work with all of you and the more than 1,000 volunteer faculty, deans, and administrators who plan our professional development programs, speak at those programs, serve as Section officers, and work on other projects and initiatives. Without your support, and that of your faculty and staff, AALS could not function. On behalf of the extraordinary AALS staff, I extend our thanks for all that you do.
Watch the 2016 AALS Report: