This was a challenging year both for the Association of American Law Schools and for all of legal education. Too many law schools endured natural disasters ranging from floods and hurricanes to fires and tornadoes. It was inspiring to see how many of you reached out in support of other law schools and their faculty and students during difficult times.
Other challenges originated in Washington, D.C. The beginning of any new administration in Washington may bring changes to the law and legal system, but actions by the Trump administration produced an unusually large number of legal confrontations beginning with challenges to the first travel ban in late January of 2017. That first weekend scores of lawyers, including law professors and law students, volunteered their time at area airports to travelers and families affected by the ban. For the Association, the actions of the Trump administration presented an ongoing challenge of when and how best to speak out on behalf of our core values including support for the rule of law.
One silver lining to the many administrative actions and tweets is that they may have contributed to the first noticeable increase in six years in the number of applicants to law schools for Fall 2018. Young people on both sides of the political spectrum have seen firsthand how important lawyers can be to resolving some of the most difficult issues facing our nation.
But just when the law applicant pool was showing signs of recovery, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in December passed a bill that if it becomes law will eliminate both Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Grad PLUS loans. The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (H.R. 4508) is designed to update the primary federal law governing colleges and universities, last renewed in 2008.
A proposed substitute loan program for graduate and non-medical professional students would cap the annual loan amount at $28,500 annually, thereby forcing students into the private loan market where rates are higher and there are fewer protections. Dean Paul Caron has described the Act as a “looming asteroid for law schools.”
AALS Executive Director Judith Areen gives her report on the association’s activities in 2017 during the AALS House of Representatives on Friday, January 4, 2018
AALS will continue to work with other higher education organizations that are part of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat (AALS is a member) and with the American Council of Education to comment on pending legislation and to keep you informed as Congress considers the PROSPER Act. We are also participating in a coalition that supports PSLF of more than 40 professional associations whose members include nurses, state and county employees, teachers, doctors, veterinarians, public health officials, public defenders, social workers, secondary school principals, and national legal aid and defenders. David Stern of Equal Justice Works has been doing a magnificent job coordinating the work of the coalition.
A Renewed Call to All Members of the House of Representatives
Before reporting in more detail on the work of AALS during the past year, I would like once again to ask all of you to continue to expand your role for AALS beyond attending the meetings of the House, just as the Executive Committee has expanded the mission of AALS. In particular, we encourage you to serve as an ambassador for AALS to your own faculty and administrators. You might reach out to new hires, for example, to explain AALS. You might also encourage some of your most productive faculty to become more active in the AALS Section (or Sections) in their field(s) of interest. You could undertake to recommend colleagues at your school, or at other schools whom you know, to serve on AALS committees including the Membership Review Committee, the Program Committee, and the Executive Committee. Most of the work of AALS is done by dedicated volunteers. Without their efforts, there would be no professional development meetings or membership review. Indeed, without our dedicated volunteers—many of whom are in this room—there would be no AALS.
Professional Development Enhancements
AALS continues to work on keeping costs down for Annual Meeting attendees, and on improving the experience of those who attend the meeting. For this meeting, we again have offered a 50 percent discount on the meeting fee to new and retired faculty.
At the 2016 Annual Meeting, for the first time, a coffee was held 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 Southern California to attend today’s sessions. The goal is to build better bridges between the academy and the bar and bench. Please introduce yourself to visitors you encounter and join our efforts to make them feel welcome.
This year AALS 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.
Improving Services to Sections
AALS staff have worked hard to continue to improve the quality of services we provide to section chairs and members because we know sections are at the heart of improving both teaching and scholarship in the legal academy. They are also the primary contact most faculty have with AALS. Our 103 sections have more than 9,000 law school faculty and professional staff as members.
In July, the AALS Executive Committee approved the establishment of a new section on the Empirical Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession. The section will focus on empirical studies of diverse aspects of legal education practices (including studies using evidence-based methods to research effective teaching, educational program design, student learning, professional formation, continuing legal education, pre-legal education, and legal literacy). It will also consider empirical studies of legal education organizations and structure, the attractiveness of law as a career, the role of law schools in social mobility, and the careers of law professors and others in the law school community. Finally, the section will promote methods for fostering increased capacity among faculty and professional staff to engage in the empirical study of legal education. Judith Wegner (University of North Carolina), a former president of AALS, will serve as the first chair of the section.
In November, the Executive Committee approved the establishment of a new Section on Leadership. The goals of the section are to promote scholarship, teaching, and related activities to help lawyers and law students serve in leadership roles. In its petition, the section proposers noted that “In every aspect of American society, lawyers lead. Lawyers serve as heads of government, business, and nonprofit organizations, and play leadership roles in many aspects of their professional lives. Yet not all lawyers are well prepared for their roles. In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, about a third of Americans said that lawyers contributed little or nothing to society—the worst record of any profession surveyed.” Deborah Rhode (Stanford), another former president of AALS, will serve as the first chair of the section.
This fall AALS hired Josh Albertson to be the first full time Section Services Manager. AALS continues 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. 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 has been to minimize paperwork for section chairs, and to encourage them to develop programs that will increase the quality of scholarship and teaching in their field—or fields—of interest.
Serving as a Voice for Legal Education
The AALS communications staff continues to make improvements to the AALS website. The home page of the website is arranged to showcase the innovations and accomplishments of law schools. Sections of the site are updated regularly.
The staff also maintains a compilation of news stories that is added to the website on a weekly basis. Users of the website may now sign up to receive a weekly email from AALS that contains each week’s news stories. A calendar of upcoming symposia at member law schools is also on the home page, and updated regularly.
The work of AALS to repair the reputation of legal education extends beyond the website. The AALS communications team makes extensive use of social media to provide various audiences of policy makers, media, and prospective law students with more accurate information about legal education today. The communications department maintains daily content on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. They have also just launched an Instagram page to share visually-focused student and faculty accomplishments, law school happenings, and behind-the-scenes activities at the Association. 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.
AALS continues to reach out directly to the national media in order to provide individual reporters with a more informed view of legal education. The communications team has also started a regular email newsletter for law school communications professionals called AALS Communications News. The newsletter details the many ways AALS now highlights the accomplishments of law schools including the AALS website, social media, AALS News, the AALS Annual Meeting, podcasts, and many others.
The communications department continues to develop original content for the quarterly AALS News magazine including a new “Faculty Perspectives” opinion feature that debuted in the spring issue. The communications staff now distributes the newsletter electronically to law school faculty and staff as well as in print. The staff also distributes the Journal of Legal Education via email as well as in print.
Outside Support for AALS and the Annual Meeting
With the appointment of Mary Dillon Kerwin as the first Director of Development, AALS has been able to increase support from law firms and corporate legal departments for its work, as well as to increase the number of sponsors of the Annual Meeting. The goal is to keep dues increases and meeting fees as low as possible. There are now 14 major law firms (Akin Gump, Arnold & Porter, Covington & Burling, Cravath, K & L Gates, O’Melveny, Paul Weiss, Proskauer, Sidley Austin, Sullivan & Cromwell, Wachtell, White and Case, Williams & Connolly, and WilmerHale) and four corporate law departments (Clorox, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Starbucks) supporting our work. Corporate and organizational sponsors have contributed nearly $90,785 to this meeting.
Completion of Comprehensive Review of AALS Executive Committee Regulations
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. In January of 2017 the new Regulations were approved by the membership without objection.
The Before the JD Project
Perhaps the most pressing problem confronting law schools today is the drop in the quality as well as the size of the national applicant pool. In response to this challenge, AALS organized a Before the JD Project. We have worked 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. AccessLex, LSAC, and NALP have joined the effort and also provided major grants to support the costs of the survey and focus groups. Through a national survey and focus groups, the goal of the Project is to understand why interest in legal education has been declining despite steady or increasing interest in medicine, engineering, and other graduate and professional degrees. We will also study what are the primary sources of information and advice about law and legal education used by college students.
We have established a group of academic advisors with experience in empirical research that includes Bryant Garth, Ronit Denovitzer, Debra Hensler, Ajay Mehrotra and Jerome Organ. They met in April to work on the questionnaire used in the survey.
Gallup was selected in February as the best firm to conduct the research survey and focus groups associated with the project. In October, Gallup sent the online survey to thousands of students at schools that were selected to constitute a representative national sample, and that agreed to participate in the survey. The number of participating schools (both undergraduate and law schools) has exceeded expectations. Our target was to have at least 3,000 undergraduates, and 1,000 first year law students respond. I’m delighted to report we have received responses from more than 20,000 undergraduates, and from 2,500 law students. Preliminary results should be completed later this month, and a final report on the Project by late spring or early summer.
Directory of Law Teachers
Since 1921, AALS has published a Directory of Law Teachers. Recent technological enhancements to the directory database have allowed us to collect more accurate information and to create an online search function for members. The 2017-2018 edition of the Directory was distributed to member and fee paid schools last month, the earliest distribution in years.
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In closing, it continues to be a privilege and honor for me to work with you and the more than 1,000 volunteer faculty, deans, and administrators who plan the AALS professional development programs, speak at those programs, serve as Section officers, and work on other projects and initiatives. Without your support and hard work, and that of your faculty colleagues and staff, AALS could not function. On behalf of the entire AALS staff, I extend our thanks for all that you do.