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KJDs and the Changing Landscape of Legal Education: Navigating New Norms and Standards

KJDs and the Changing Landscape of Legal Education


The landscape of legal education has been undergoing seismic shifts in recent years, impacted by external forces like the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for social justice reforms. These changes profoundly impact, especially “KJDs” – students pursuing a JD directly after undergraduate studies. As law schools adapt to new norms and standards for accreditation, pedagogy, and student support, KJDs navigate a very different educational context than their predecessors.

This article overviews the changing legal education landscape and its implications for KJDs and other law students. We will examine the historical context and evolution of legal education before recent reforms, the disruptions caused by COVID-19, innovations in accreditation standards and pedagogy, the role of federal legislation, and predictions for the future trajectory of legal education.

Historical Context

  • Traditional model centered around Socratic dialogue and case law analysis
  • Emphasis on theoretical knowledge over practical skills
  • Relatively stagnant approach to teaching and learning before 21st century

Role of ABA Accreditation Standards

  • Outlines requirements for law school curriculum, faculty, administration
  • Slow to incorporate significant reforms or innovations
  • Controversy over ABA’s gatekeeper status and resistance to change

The traditional model of legal education has experienced significant disruptions on multiple fronts in recent years. These seismic shifts create new challenges and opportunities for law schools and students alike.

Abrupt Disruption of COVID-19

  • Rapid transition to online learning platforms
  • Loss of in-person interactions and networking
  • Financial and enrollment uncertainties

Push for Meaningful Innovations

  • Calls for expanded experiential and clinical education
  • Focus on developing practice-ready graduates
  • Emphasis on technology skills and pandemic-resilient instruction

Need for Reforms Beyond Episodic Changes

  • The danger of regressing to the status quo after the immediate crisis subsides
  • The window of opportunity to implement structural improvements
  • Prioritizing lasting, progressive changes to legal education

Accreditation and Reform

The American Bar Association (ABA) standards significantly influence legal education as the primary accrediting body. In recent years, there has been a push for more flexibility and innovation in these standards to promote meaningful reforms. The standards play a crucial role in assessing the effectiveness and outcomes of legal education programs. However, the ABA must also balance its gatekeeping function with encouraging progress and not hindering it through rigid regulations.

Specific areas of focus in improving ABA standards include:

  • Increasing emphasis on learning outcomes rather than just input measurements
  • Closing loopholes that allow superficial compliance from law schools
  • Requiring transparency and accountability around bar passage rates and job placement numbers

Furthermore, the standards can help address inadequacies and disparities by expanding access to legal education, correcting curriculum gaps, and promoting inclusive climates.

Table 1: Timeline of Major ABA Accreditation Standard Revisions

YearMajor Revisions
2014Increased experiential learning requirements
2019Changes to bar passage and job placement standards
2020Expanded option for J.D. programs untethered from campus
2022Proposed stronger oversight of academic support programs

Pedagogical Innovations

Pedagogical innovations in law schools are also driving changes tailored to the needs of current and future students. There has been an increase in legal clinics, externships, and practical coursework to provide more opportunities to apply knowledge instead of just passively receiving it through lectures. Developing standards around supervision, feedback, and evaluation for these experiential learning environments ensures they are educationally meaningful.

Adaptive pedagogy and instruction leveraging technology is essential for remote, hybrid, and pandemic-resilient learning. There is also a focus on designing inclusive learning environments and accommodating diverse learning styles and student needs.

The Role of Federal Legislation

Beyond accreditation standards, federal legislation like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title IX shape legal education. IDEA prohibits disability discrimination and provides standards around accommodations and access for disabled students. This includes implications for bar exam accommodations. Similarly, Title IX rules around sexual harassment and violence prevention influence law school policies, reporting procedures, and education efforts.

Challenges and Opportunities

Law schools face many challenges in adapting to the changing landscape of legal education driven by evolving ABA standards, pedagogical innovations, and federal legislation. However, these challenges are paired with opportunities to advance legal education.

Adapting to Evolving Accreditation Standards

Complying with updated ABA standards requires balancing checking boxes for compliance and advancing innovation. Specific challenges include getting faculty and administration buy-in for changes, updating policies and curricula to meet new requirements, renovating facilities, and investing in new technology infrastructure.

However, the standards also create opportunities to improve student services, emphasize practical skills, and demonstrate the value of a J.D. degree. Law schools that embrace the spirit behind accreditation changes can set their graduates up for success.

Maintaining Tradition While Embracing Innovation

Incorporating emerging best practices in legal education without losing the hallmarks of what defines a law school education is another balancing act. The traditional Socratic dialogue and doctrinal education remain important alongside the expansion of clinics, externships, and experiential coursework.

Law schools can leverage their history and prestige while serving as incubators for graduate practice-ready attorneys equipped to pass the bar and thrive in a modern legal landscape. Blending signature pedagogies with adaptability positions law schools well for the future.

Many believe these disruptions and accreditation shifts are not fleeting changes but the new normal that will shape legal education for years. Some predictions for the trajectory of programs include:

  • Continued integration of technology and remote learning options
  • Increased focus on law student well-being and support services
  • Ongoing curriculum updates to stay relevant to the legal market
  • Expanded opportunities for practical skill development
  • Changes in faculty makeup and credentials to meet new standards

If law schools rise to meet these changing needs, they can increase the value proposition of holding a J.D. by setting their graduates up for success on the bar and in practice.


The seismic shifts and new norms shaping legal education present challenges and opportunities to improve programs. By embracing innovation alongside tradition, leveraging changes in accreditation standards and pedagogy, and anticipating future needs of the legal market, law schools can navigate this new landscape. The result will be meaningful growth, producing practice-ready graduates ready to launch modern legal careers, including KJDs embarking straight from undergrad.