By Judith Areen
Two thousand and nineteen was a challenging year for legal education and for the rule of law. In December, the House of Representatives impeached the President of the United States. Over the next week or so we will learn whether the Senate will subpoena documents or hear witnesses as it tries the impeachment. Never has it been more important to prepare our students for the professional challenges they may face, or to keep our communities and the nation informed about the principles of justice embedded in our constitution and system of law.
AALS continues to showcase the innovations and accomplishments of member and fee-paid law schools for policymakers, leaders of the bar and bench, the media, prospective law students, and the public. The homepage of the AALS website is designed to celebrate the accomplishments of colleagues such as those at the University of Kansas School of Law who are strengthening the legal profession by teaching future lawyers to understand statistics, data analysis, and artificial intelligence.
We rely on your schools (and your communication directors) to submit material to be featured on the website. Most national reporters do not follow all 200 ABA accredited law schools, but most follow our website—so it is a way to share your accomplishments with a national audience.
In addition to showcasing the accomplishments of law schools, the AALS website homepage has a calendar of upcoming symposia at law schools around the nation that is updated regularly. Last year, AALS began to email the calendar on a regular basis to all law faculty as part of our effort to share new ideas and scholarly insights throughout the legal academy.
Two new communications team members have made it possible to provide several new services to members this year. In addition to a weekly AALS Legal Education News Digest, interested faculty can now subscribe to a Legal Education Blogs Digest, a compilation of articles about law schools from blogs. An archive of blog posts and subscription information can be found at www.aals.org/blogs.
In October, AALS debuted a new page on its website that lists recent books by law faculty. The page contains brief descriptions of each book published as well as directions on how faculty can submit books for consideration to be included on the website. The new page can be found at www.aals.org/faculty-books.
AALS also now hosts a regularly updated page with memorials of law professors at www.aals.org/memorials. We will also make a printed list of memorials available at the Meeting of the AALS House of Representatives at the AALS Annual Meeting.
Finally, AALS is working to make its news archive more functional for users. New search categories include advice for prospective students, pre-law pipeline programs, and 3+3 accelerated JD/bachelor’s degree programs. The new categories can be found at www.aals.org/news.
As part of our mission, AALS is committed to providing law school deans with opportunities to work together. Six years ago, AALS established a Deans Forum that enables deans of all member and fee-paid schools to come together to work on issues of mutual importance at a day-long program for deans-only at the Annual Meeting. Approximately 140 deans registered to attend this year’s meeting.
AALS has also established a Deans Steering Committee to work on matters of interest to deans throughout the year.
Sections are the primary point of contact most faculty have with AALS. Our 103 sections have more than 9,000 law faculty and professional staff as members. Sections are intended to increase excellence in both teaching and scholarship across the legal academy, although we know that some sections have been more effective than others.
This year, AALS made a number of improvements to the online communities and resources available to sections. First, section webpages have been redesigned to make content such as newsletters, upcoming events, and announcements available to all faculty. The design of the resulting webpages is both more inviting and more useful. The “Join a Section” page is another important innovation. Where before faculty had to email AALS to ask to join a section, requests are now sent automatically through an interactive form. Finally, staff continue to identify faculty members using the Directory of Law Teachers who do not belong to a section that corresponded to the subjects they teach and invite them to consider joining. Some four hundred additional faculty joined sections this year in response.
I am particularly pleased to report that the responsibility for leading sections is widely shared among our membership. This past year, for example, 105 section chairs came from seventy-seven different member schools.
We invite you to support this new focus on sections by reaching out to new faculty at your schools to explain AALS to them, and the value of joining a section. We also ask you to encourage your most productive faculty scholars to become more active in the AALS Section (or Sections) in their field(s) of interest by volunteering to join the leadership of a Section.
For the past two years, AALS has undertaken a “greening” campaign to reduce print production quantities and in some cases eliminating print publications altogether. For the first time, the four issues of the 2018-19 academic year Placement Bulletin were made available to candidates, law schools, and subscribers in digital form only. In the case of meeting events, all content is developed with a digital-first philosophy. This in part has been made possible due to innovations in our systems. We no longer produce e-brochures. Instead the website group collaborates with the communications and meetings groups to develop websites for the meetings (Annual Meeting, Clinical Legal Education, or New Law Teachers). All pages are printable and shareable, making e-brochures unnecessary. All event pages include Frequently Asked Questions, Speaker lists, and Session materials including recordings, and much more.
In the fall we completed the production of the 2019-2020 Directory of Law Teachers and conducted another greening campaign. We reduced the print production by 36 percent from last year. The volumes will arrive in the new year. The search functions of the online directory, useful to individual faculty looking for colleagues and scholars and appointment committees conducting lateral searches, now support title searches. The search also allows to sort faculty members by subjects taught, currently teaching, years teaching, and seminar offerings, among other categories. It supports the ability to cross-search for multiple faculty and multiple subject areas at the same time.
We developed a mobile app for the Conference on Clinical Legal Education for the first time. The conference had 17 new 20-minute sessions modeled on Ted Talks and 50 percent more concurrent programs than the previous year.
We also implemented two key Annual Meeting projects in response to feedback from our surveys: (1) to better explain how to submit an Annual Meeting proposal; and (2) to improve the online presence of Sections and access to Section material and resources. Section leaders now have more control over the materials they post, and their members have easier access to their materials.
Both the AALS News and the Journal of Legal Education are available electronically on our website. The 2019 Proceedings, the 2019 Handbook, and the 2020 Annual Meeting Prospectus were printed and distributed this past spring.
The Faculty Recruitment Services working group and the website group updated materials for law schools and candidates in preparation for the new cycle. In the summer we launched a new section of our website, Becoming a Law Teacher (BALT), to host resources related to entering the legal academy. The goal is to bring transparency and provide a better understanding of the law school hiring process for candidates. The site includes multi-media components including video of a mock job talk, interviews with recent faculty hires, discussions with directors of VAP, fellowship, and doctoral degree programs, and two webinars.
Based on feedback from candidates and interviewers, we are working on a new Faculty Appointments Register application interface developed by Interfolio, with enhanced functionality including an improved ranking system to evaluate candidates.
Finally, we have revised our website to better explain the suite of AALS Faculty Recruitment Services available to member and fee-paid schools, as well as faculty candidates and added a new item to the navigation bar on the main website to improve the user-experience and to make it easier to locate high-demand material. The new “Faculty Jobs” dropdown menu includes a new microsite with resources and information for aspiring faculty along with listings of interest to current faculty.
This fall, 132 schools conducted interviews at the Faculty Recruitment Conference (FRC). This compares to 105 schools that conducted interviews in 2018.
Instead of a panel presentation at the Candidates Workshop, the workshop was held at round tables with a facilitator to encourage questions in a smaller group environment. This was a positive change with much engagement at each table. Sixty candidates attended the Workshop.
Sean Scott welcomed the candidates to the FRC workshop program and Darby Dickerson welcomed them to the conference.
For the fourth consecutive year, AALS measured how much law schools contribute to the delivery of much needed legal service through clinics, other experiential courses, and pro bono activities of graduating law students. For the class of 2019, it turns out that law students contributed more than 4.38 million hours, an average of about 220 hours per student. Using the Independent Sector’s recommended value of such volunteer time as worth $25.43 an hour, this means the law class of 2019 contributed more than $111.5 million worth of pro bono legal services. This number is based on responses from more than half of the ABA accredited law schools. If your school was not included, we encourage you to urge them to participate in the next annual survey so it will be an even more accurate report on this important national contribution from the legal academy.
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I want to close by thanking the talented and hard-working staff of the AALS. It is a small group (only 25 plus a few students), yet they handle not only the Annual Meeting, but all the day-to-day challenges of operating an association with an expanded mission that now includes professional development programs, publications, a website and social media presence, support for deans and for sections and research.
It continues to be a privilege and honor for me to work with all of 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 our 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.