On December 30, Professor Joseph Sneed assumed office as president of the Association of American Law Schools. The occasion was the sixty-seventh annual meeting of the Association, held this year in Detroit December 27-30. Aside from the ceremonial functions the meeting consisted of two general sessions, round table meetings, legal clinics and visual exhibits. Many of this year’s activities, according to Mr. Sneed were indicative of the changing and widening role the AALS is playing in the world of legal education.
The Association luncheon on December 29 is an example. Chief speaker was The Hon. Wayne Morse Senator from Oregon, and a former lawyer, whose topic was “The Federal Government and Legal Education.” Representative John Conyers of Michigan also spoke. A high point of the luncheon was the second presentation of the Triennial Order of the Coif award, which this year went to Grant Gilmore of the University of Chicago (see article page 5).
The members of the convention also adopted a resolution suggesting changes in national selective service procedures. The resolution, closely resembling one drawn up by the Commission on Federal Relation of The American Council of Education would have substantially mitigated the impact on law schools and law students of the sudden withdrawal of graduate school deferments. However the suggestions contained in the proposal were not acted upon.
The AALS was formed in 1900 by twenty-seven of the nation’s leading law schools. Its stated purpose was to improve the legal profession through legal education and to raise the level of teaching and scholarship in the law and the requirements for admission to the bar. Primary among its criteria for admission have been the quality of a school’s faculty of its student body of its library and of its physical plant.
The 118 schools that currently make up the Association have all been approved by the ABA. Membership in the AALS is granted after intensive inspection and questionnaires. In many cases, such inspections and evaluations are carried out jointly by AALS and ABA representatives. The ABA and the AALS, according to Mr. Sneed, collaborate with increasing frequency on programs designed to bring matters of interest before the members of the legal profession and before the general public. These include the sponsorship of symposia and the join study of legislative proposals relevant to maintaining high standards of legal education. In fact, a good deal of discussion at the December AALS convention stemmed from Senator Morse’s speech on government aid to legal education and from the remarks of John Conyers and Calvin Lee, an official of the Office of Education section of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, on different aspects of that question.
Mr. Sneed addressed the issue of federal aid to legal education at some length on March 28, when testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, which was then considering the Higher Education Amendment of 1968.
He outlined the vast changes taking place within the nation’s law schools and the corresponding need for federal funds to support both the students who must bear the rising costs of legal education and the projects that go along with those changes. Federal funds, he said, are needed to finance legal education generally, but particularly the education of disadvantaged students. Funds are also needed to support legal research consistent with “the ideals of excellent graduate education.” They are needed to provide new teaching techniques, such as computer-assisted instruction and closed-circuit television and audiovisual instruction, and to help meet the sharply increased demand for library materials.
A recent statement prepared by Mr. Sneed perhaps best illustrates the work of the AALS as “a creative force in American legal education”:
There has always been need for loose groupings to exist which would provide a means by which actions reflecting overriding common interests could be taken. For law schools, the AALS has been the most enduring structure of this type, and the principal common interests it has served have been the preservation of minimum educational standards through accreditation by admission to membership, the provision of opportunities to experience the benefits of collegiality beyond the capacity of any single school, and the provision of an occasion, through its annual meeting, by which teachers could find positions more appropriate to their interests, talents and temperaments.
Slowly it has become apparent that there were additional common ends that the AALS could serve and that there were emerging problems in legal education whose solution was not within the capacity of individual schools. Thus the AALS created the position of Executive Director and undertook the task of rendering services to law schools which, if performed by each school, would lead either to waste and needless competition for prestige or could not be performed at all.
These include the very successful Orientation Program in American Law (OPAL), the Part-Time Legal Education Study, the efforts to assist lawyers involved in combating segregation, the study of legal education of minority groups, the distribution of a register of persons available for faculty appointments, the effort to determine the future supply of law students (known as the Student Wave Survey), the memoranda describing pending Supreme Court cases, the “Pre-Law Handbook” now distributed to all pre-law advisers and many university and public libraries, the guidelines for establishing new law schools and the numerous incidental services, such as the publication of a newsletter, the editing of the Directory of Law Teachers, the response to requests by individual law schools regarding proper practices and the dissemination of information relating to pertinent governmental activity. In addition, tasks commenced at an earlier date, such as the publication of the Journal of Legal Education, the management of the annual meeting and the publication of its Proceedings, were continued.
All this is behind us. Today, as the discussion at the recent American Assembly made clear, legal education faces new challenges. Moreover, there is in existence throughout legal education a surprisingly broad consensus that legal education is about to enter one of its most dynamic periods of change. No one is prepared to describe in detail the configurations of legal education three decades hence, but many are confident that it will not closely resemble what presently exists. Also there exists the strong feeling that the demands of the future cannot satisfactorily be met by the efforts of individual schools augmented by an AALS functioning on the same level as it has in the past.
The reasons for believing that a more helpful and creative role must be assumed by the AALS are not difficult to discover. The first is that during a period of rapid transition many schools, quite bewildered by the rush of events, instinctively will look to the organization that they regard as their spokesman and protector for assistance. In doing so they frequently will more readily accept a course of action advocated by the AALS than one put forward by an individual school without regard to its prestige.
A second reason for a somewhat enlarged role for the AALS is the emergence of national centers of financial support for legal education. The Federal Government and national foundations despite their past meager assistance to legal education, in the future will play an increasingly important part in making available the resources necessary to transform legal education. As this happens, the need of individual law schools for an organization to be both a mediator of differences and an advocate of causes will increase.
Already the AALS has given assistance to law schools and individual scholars in their attempts to secure financial support from various federal agencies interested in research and education. Also the AALS, on invitation from various Congressional committees, has presented the viewpoint of legal education with respect to the matters then pending. We should be doing more. Many opportunities for creative work within law schools can be discovered by an organization such as the AALS searching out and bringing together the interests and resources of those in the Federal Government and elsewhere with the talent and manpower that exists within law school faculties and student bodies.
A third reason for believing that a more creative role for the AALS lies in the future is the inability of many schools acting individually to meet the financial demands which the legal education of tomorrow will impose. A declining student-teacher ratio, increasingly complex teaching methods, augmented opportunities to receive clinical experience, a multiplicity of research projects funded almost entirely from external sources, and the mounting costs of maintaining libraries that are responsive to the needs of tomorrow’s law schools will force many schools to develop cooperative ventures designed to share the enormous financial burdens these developments will entail. The AALS must lead the way in pointing out the necessity for prudent use of educational resources and the values as well as the difficulties, of consortia that will open the way for most schools to share in the benefits that tomorrow’s legal education will make possible. In addition the AALS has a responsibility to assist member schools in keeping current the skills of its faculty members. The advent of empirical research centered in law schools will result in many law professors finding themselves professionally alienated from this important work unless they possess the skills necessary to understand or participate. Retraining for many will be imperative.
Finally, the dynamics of the institutions of the organized bar, particularly the American Bar
Association require that the AALS assume a leading role in communicating the aspirations and interests of legal educators to all portions of the profession. As the ABA prepares to increase its concern with the problems of legal education, the necessity for an alert and competent AALS increases. Legal education will be best served if both the organization representing primarily the practitioners, the ABA, and that which speaks for the educators, the AALS, are vigorous and effective.
Clearly Mr. Sneed has stepped into the presidency of the Association at a time when relevant change in the structure of the AALS and in legal education in the United States is very much a topic of debate. An important task during his tenure, as Mr. Sneed says, is to provide “the forums both within and without the profession for all the questions that need airing.”