Continuing Practice Experience . . . for Professors?

January 4th, 2012 / By

Emily Zimmerman, an associate professor at Drexel’s Earle Mack School of Law, proposes that law professors should fill “continuing practice experience” requirements. In an SSRN paper, Zimmerman notes that “many of the people who are entrusted with preparing students for law practice are people who may not actually have practiced law, who may only have practiced law for a short amount of time . . . , or who may not have practiced law recently.” (p. 7) Zimmerman acknowledges that these professors may “do an excellent job of helping students develop some of the skills that they will need to be successful lawyers.” But is that enough? Shouldn’t law schools strive to give students the best possible education for their role as lawyers? To accomplish that, Zimmerman argues that full-time faculty should enjoy more regular connection to the world of practice.

Modeling her proposal on CLE requirements, Zimmerman suggests that professors devote 10-15 hours a year to “law practice.” To give professors more flexibility, and to allow more in-depth engagement, a “CPE” requirement might mandate 30-45 hours of practice every three years. The activities fulfilling this requirement could range from actual practice (for paying or pro bono clients) to shadowing active lawyers and participating in bar committee work. Professors without active licenses, including those without law degrees, could participate in some of the latter activities.

Turning her eye to enforcement, Zimmerman outlines a variety of ways to impose a CPE requirement: Individual schools could adopt such a requirement for their professors; the ABA could revise its standards to require or encourage CPE; and/or the AALS could include CPE in its Statement of Good Practices.

Zimmerman’s brief paper offers a thoughtful suggestion for cultivating an ongoing connection between law schools and law practice. Professors might, as she notes, resist a CPE requirement; it might also degenerate into a loophole-ridden rule or another series of talking-head seminars. But Zimmerman’s core idea holds strong appeal. If law professors ventured into practice for at least a few hours each year, they might see their teaching and scholarship through new eyes. At the very least, they would see some of the market pressures that their graduates face each day.


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