ABA Approves Law Students Receiving Credit for Paid Externships

December 6, 2016

Summary: The ABA has lifted its previous ban on students receiving academic credit for paid externships.

After years of debate, the American Bar Association announced a big change that will help law students with their student loan debt. The organization has lifted the ban that stated students could not receive credit and pay for externships. Proponents for the change rejoiced for an initiative that they said was long overdue.

While this is exciting news for many, law schools maintain the option to not allow the compensation with credit. Some law professors expressed concerns that if law students are paid, the externships would shift from an educational experience to a job that purely benefits the employers. Think getting coffee and making copies. Addressing this concern, the ABA added a provision that “ensure[d] that students participating in field placements for which compensation is offered would be receiving a substantial lawyering experience deserving of academic credit.”

Before ABA made its decision, The Washington Post published an editorial, supporting the reform.

“This reform is simple common sense: the educational value of an externship does not depend on whether the student is paid or not,” Ilya Somin of The Washington Post wrote. “Moreover, allowing credit for paid externships is particularly valuable for poor students and others who may be having difficulty making ends meet. That’s an especially significant advantage at a time when there is increasing (often justified) concern over excessive law school tuition. At the very least, the ABA should not forbid individual law schools from making their own decisions on this issue. Schools should be able to decide for themselves whether any given paid externship has enough educational value to justify awarding academic credit.”

The lift of the ban was a part of new regulations passed by the ABA in August. The group meets every summer to discuss and decide on matters that impact law schools and the legal community. Other big changes include stripping law schools of accreditation if too few of their graduates pass the bar and updating its sexual harassment policy.

The proposal was first rejected by the ABA in June of 2014. In March of 2015, the council signed off on the proposal after the House of Delegates asked for reconsideration. In August of 2016, the lift of the ban became official after the House of Delegates completed the final approval. According to the ABA press release, the decision to allow paid externships was concluded after a “spirited debate.”

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