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New York City Bar Association Urges ABA to Eliminate Prohibition on Academic Credit for Paid Employment


Eric Friedman
(212) 382-6754

Kathryn Inman
(212) 382-6656

New York City Bar Association Urges ABA to Eliminate Prohibition on Academic Credit for Paid Employment

New York, May 14, 2015 – The New York City Bar Association has written to the American Bar Association urging that the prohibition on law schools giving academic credit to students who work for private employers be eliminated, primarily because “it greatly restricts the number of opportunities for experiential learning, prevents the student from being paid for valuable work and lacks justification.” The Council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar sets accreditation standards for law schools in the United States.

As the letter states, law school applications have substantially decreased over the past ten years, while tuition and student debt have risen. Law school revenue has been declining, as have job prospects for law students. In response to this crisis, the City Bar created the Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession, which, among its recommendations, suggested that law schools focus on the goal of training more “practice-ready” graduates, by experimenting with different changes to the curriculum. The Task Force urged the development of “Bridge to Practice” programs that provide dynamic, practical experience for third-year law students.

“It is self-evident that employment prospects for graduating third-year law students would be substantially enhanced if students, in addition to their classroom education, had greater opportunities to work for legal employers in a supervised, academically-linked setting before graduation,” states the letter. “The program would be designed to assist students in building real lawyering skills, becoming more marketable after graduation, creating jobs with employers who might otherwise hire only laterally, compensating students in some instances, and in any event ultimately helping to mitigate the high cost of law school.”

Still, despite the expressed willingness of several private employers to participate in Bridge to Practice programs, efforts to implement them in the private sector have been greatly limited due to ABA Standard 305 and Interpretation 305-2, which states that “A law school may not grant credit to a student for participation in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.”

Yet, as the letter explains, “under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) private employers are (practically speaking) required to pay student interns. Thus, a law student can work for a government or non-profit law office, which is not subject to the FLSA, and can gain both academic credit and valuable experience with the potential for future employment with that employer. However, that same student cannot have the same experience working for a private sector employer who, to avoid violating the FLSA, would have to pay the student, thereby preventing that student from receiving academic credit for the employment experience.”

A well structured program involving private employers, notes the letter, “would provide the experiential learning opportunities so needed by law students without undercutting any of the objectives of a sound legal education,” as each individual law school would have the discretion to assess whether the placement is sufficiently educational to earn academic credit, or whether to implement a program such as this at all.

The letter concludes, “We respectfully recommend that the ABA eliminate this prohibition completely and allow a student who works for an employer in an approved program to receive both academic credit and compensation.”

The letter may be read here:

About the Association
The New York City Bar Association, since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the legal profession, promoting reform of the law and access to justice, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association, through its 24,000 members, continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.