Registration is Open: Ensuring Equality in Legal Academia: Strategies to Dismantle Caste (webinar, May 10, 2021)

Co-produced by the Sections on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research and Academic Support

The AALS Section on Academic Support and the Diversity Committee of the Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research are co-hosting a panel presentation webinar titled “Ensuring Equality in Legal Academia: Strategies to Dismantle Caste” on Monday, May 10, 2021 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. EST exploring the caste system in legal education recently highlighted by Dean Darby Dickerson (UIC John Marshall School of Law) during her tenure as AALS President and memorialized in her article, “Abolish the Academic Caste System.” 

The caste system is a pernicious, but largely neglected, dynamic in legal academia.  As Dean Dickerson noted in her article, most, if not all, law schools maintain a caste system, with legal skills, academic support, and clinical faculty on the bottom rungs.  Exacerbating the problem is that these faculty members are largely women and persons of color, who do the lion’s share of work involving student interaction but are provided the least in terms of pay, job security, and respect.  The caste system in legal academia, like all caste systems, assigns value to certain members of the profession while devaluing others.  Thus, many legal skills, academic support, and other non-tenure track faculty do not get proper recognition or fair compensation for their many contributions, which inflicts harm on academic programs and law schools as a whole. 

Deans Michael Barry (South Texas College of Law Houston), Danielle Conway (Penn State Dickinson Law), Larry Cunningham (Charleston School of Law), Susan Duncan (Mississippi School of Law), and Michael Hunter Schwartz (McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific) will join moderator Dean Dickerson to discuss the detrimental impacts of such a caste system and potential solutions to the problem, with a particular focus on legal writing and academic support professors.  The panel will address how law schools and others can mobilize institutional support for skills professors, capture the value-add that skills professors bring to legal education, open up pathways to tenure, and minimize inequities.  As members of a profession that is dedicated to serving justice, eliminating the caste system is more than a matter of expedience.  It is a moral imperative. 

To register for this exciting webinar, click here.  Advanced registration is required.  Registration is free and open to anyone in the legal education community, including students, faculty, and staff.  For more information, including the presenters’ biographies and program objectives, go to AALS’ Events webpage. 

It’s Grading Season! Have you checked your bias?

By: Anne Gordon, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Externships, Duke Law School

I’ve often heard colleagues say that they love teaching so much their law school wouldn’t even need to pay them for it . . . but grading is a different story.  Grading is time-consuming and stressful, two things that none of us needs as we finish up an uncommonly difficult year.  We all know that taking the time to check that stress is good for our health.  You may not know that it is also critical for reducing your bias.  Mitigating our biases is critical to ensure accurate student assessment, as well as the relationship-building that is so key to our mentorship and supervision.  This article, an excerpt from a paper in the Spring issue of the Clinical Law Review, will illustrate how biases shape our thinking, show the link between stress and bias, and provide concrete ways to mitigate our bias – critical for avoiding biased behavior toward our students – in grading season and beyond.

Brains and Bias

Our brains sort through information we encounter in the world by creating schema, automatic characterizations that allow us to go on “auto-pilot” as we process information throughout our day.  These allow us to be efficient: we can distinguish a plastic bag from a log in the road while driving and react appropriately, even without conscious thought.  Our automatic judgments can also activate in ways that aren’t helpful, however, when those schema intersect with actual or perceived social characteristics like race or gender, including harmful stereotypes.

Humans are also plagued by cognitive biases, other decision-making shortcuts that can lead us to erroneous conclusions.  These biases can combine with our stereotype-based biases to produce damaging effects for our students.  For example, it is well-documented that humans harbor an Anchoring Bias, the tendency to “anchor” judgments on the first piece of information offered, and Confirmation Bias, the tendency to selectively search for information that confirms prior beliefs or judgments.  If you team-teach your clinic, you should also be on the lookout for the Bandwagon Effect.  This is our tendency to have our attitudes and beliefs shaped by others, due to our innate desire for social harmony.

It is easy to see how these biases can interact with the stereotype-based bias described above.  For example, a professor’s bias may put a student in the schema of “low performing;” if the student then turns in a poor first assignment, the professor’s cognitive bias serves to “anchor” his perception of that student in subsequent interactions.  Confirmation Bias then kicks in, and the professor seeks out errors that conform to her initial judgment of the student as being low performing.  The teacher “knew” that this student would struggle, and that’s what the professor sees.  This is what we seemed to see playing out in a recorded conversation between Georgetown professors – a conversation that got one of them fired.  The converse of Confirmation Bias is also true – students judged as competent receive the benefit of a teacher’s subconscious willingness to overlook evidence to the contrary (and may also miss out on opportunities to learn). 

The interaction of these effects has been borne out in the research.  One study by Dr. Arin Reeves showed how lawyers found more errors in a writing sample that they thought had been written by a Black associate, despite identical errors in a “white-written” sample.  The study’s authors concluded that Confirmation Bias caused the partners to look more carefully for errors in the “Black lawyer’s” work, and more easily disregarded errors by the white lawyer, who fit their stereotype of a generally competent professional.   While this study has not been replicated among law faculty, it would be easy to see how it could play out in our evaluation of our students.     

Stress Amplifies Bias

The conditions of teaching, especially in stressful times, create a perfect storm for our biases to manifest.  When we are stressed, low on blood sugar or sleep, or engaging in sustained intellectual engagement (think a stack of student work to evaluate), we become cognitively depleted.  Cognitive depletion leads us to fall back on our biases, simply because the associations are already there – even where we might be able to keep those biases in check if we were at our best.  Cognitive depletion and stereotype bias feed off each other, where the more stressed we are, the more biased we become.  This can take shape in two ways: first, for biased teachers, stress amplifies their bias.  But it also means that teachers trying to overcome their bias, or trying to communicate a lack of bias to their students, are taxed in a way that can result in – you guessed it – bias.  Studies have shown that the more cognitive resources teachers spend trying to communicate a lack of racism to their students, the more cognitive depletion that results.

Our biases manifest in interactions with our students, in the form of decreased eye contact, nervousness, discomfort, awkwardness, speech errors, stiffness, and other subtle avoidance behaviors that convey dislike or unease, possibly due to fear of being labeled a racist, or fear of being met with hostility by our students.   These behaviors, so subtle that they may not be perceptible even as we’re doing them, are therefore less controllable through conscious will – you can’t just will yourself to blink less.  Members of minoritized groups, however, can sense the awkwardness, leaving them wondering: was that constructive feedback due to actual performance, or instructor bias?  Or was that positive feedback due to professors’ over-correcting their biases, opting or a “great job” instead of giving them the real story about their abilities?  This ambiguity is often a contingency of under-represented students’ identity, and ultimately creates a dynamic where students are not fully capable of gauging their own performance, not fully able to accept and make use of our feedback, and not fully able to engage in the learning process.

A Good Time to Make a Change

As we go into our grading, feedback, and evaluation season, therefore, it is imperative that we take affirmative steps to mitigate our bias, and the stress that amplifies that bias.  These measures can fall roughly into three categories: the first is addressing our own bias, the second is reducing our cognitive load, and the third is changing our processes.  Here’s a useful frame used by psychologist Jonathan Haidt at NYU.  The frame here is that in each of us there is an elephant and a rider, walking on a path. The Rider is our rational side; our evidence-based decision-maker.  Our Elephant is our emotional side – it acts based on feelings and instincts.  The Path is our environment, our systems.  Here’s how it works: although the rider holds the reins and appears to lead the elephant, there’s only so long the rider can struggle with the elephant before the six-ton animal just takes over.  The elephant might do what the rider wants for a while, but where there’s a struggle, the elephant will always win.  Fortunately, because the elephant goes on auto-pilot so often, it’s happy following a path – and it will follow the path of least resistance.

So according to Haidt, in order to change, you need to do three things: tame your elephant, strengthen your rider, and shape your path. The first, taming your elephant, requires mitigating your own bias.  This requires sustained work to rid ourselves of negative internalized stereotypes, through training, exposure to cross-cultural diversity, and nurturing a growth mindset (making you less likely to favor only those you’ve identified as “smart”).

Strengthening our rider means stopping ourselves from falling back on our biases – we do this by reducing the conditions that are ripe for bias to present (in other words, reducing cognitive load).  One way to do this is through mindfulness practice, which can increase our ability to become aware of our emotions and biases, and therefore better able to engage our self-regulatory processes, so we can act in a manner congruent with our values.  Another simple-to-describe (if tricky to implement) way to stop a retreat into cognitive overload (and bias) is to try to reduce the number of cognitively taxing activities before student interactions.  Interpersonal stress, impending deadlines, a sleepless night, and even bodily discomfort can lead to cognitive taxation.  So try not to schedule an entire day of back-to-back supervision meetings, or a student meeting directly after a stressful faculty meeting.  Get extra sleep, exercise, and stretch during your feedback week.  Don’t grade student work after watching the news.  And here’s more good news: another easy way to re-charge one’s cognitive batteries is to eat a snack.  Researchers have proven that some of the effects of cognitive depletion can be undone by ingesting glucose.  So go ahead and eat that leftover Easter candy – it’s for your students.

The final way to reduce bias is by shaping the path: de-bias our process.  Formulas, or evaluation rubrics, can help mitigate these problems by making performance metrics explicit, concrete, and consistent.  In addition to leading to less biased grading, a good rubric will also help the teacher, by easing the pain of a stressful feedback discussion.  Where teachers can be precise and name concepts, they can be clear with their feedback. Without such clarity, the message teachers seek to convey for future learning may be muddied, awkward, and cause cognitive strain (which amplifies our bias and impairs our students’ learning).

Those lucky enough to be team-teaching have the good fortune to be able to engage in a practice known as a calibration session, where the individual faculty members write preliminary appraisals of the students, including proposed ratings.  Then the faculty meet and show their proposed ratings along with the rationale behind the rating.  These sessions have the advantage of mitigating bias in the first place (because faculty are pressed to base their judgments on objective measures) and may cause further elimination of bias when forced to confront their own ratings against others’. 

As we round out our semester, reading our final student assignments, scheduling our final feedback conversations, and recording our assessments, it is imperative that we also make the time to check our biases.  As you sit down to grade, remember the Elephant, the Rider, and the Path, and do the work required to make your feedback and evaluation fair.  Our students deserve it.

Implementation of the ABA’s New Experiential Training Requirement: More Whimper Than Bang

By: Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

When the ABA adopted a new experiential training requirement in 2014, there was hope it would spur law schools to significantly change the way they prepared students for legal practice. The new six-credit requirement in ABA Standard 303(a)(3) was less than the fifteen credits proposed by some educators and did not include a mandate for a law clinic or externship experience. Nonetheless, the six credits were an improvement over the ABA’s previous “substantial instruction” in professional skills requirement.[1] But data from the initial implementation of the new experiential requirement suggest its effect has been more of a whimper than the bang some hoped for, with little evidence it has spurred legal education to enhance the ability of students to get hands-on training in professional skills.

            Law schools are required to report annually to the ABA on the number of seats simply “available” to students in law clinic and simulation courses and the number of field placement/externship positions actually “filled.”[2] Data from the first two years of the new six-credit requirement in 2019 and 2020 show no increase in the positions available to students in clinics or simulations and even a decrease in actual enrollment in field placement courses, when normalized to address fluctuations in nationwide law school enrollment. While some law schools have made important changes to their curriculum, the graph below indicates that, on average, schools have not reported positive changes in law clinic, field placement, or simulation data since the ABA’s adoption of the new experiential standard in 2014. The number of clinic seats available per J.D. student in 2014 was 0.27 and still only 0.28 in 2020; field placements decreased from 0.26 in 2014 to 0.24 in 2020; and seats available in simulations likewise decreased over the six-year period from 1.22 to 1.12 per student.

  Source: ABA 509 Required Disclosures at

            The New York Court of Appeals followed the ABA in 2015 with its own new skills competency standard for bar candidates, proclaiming that “the goal of ensuring effective, ethical and responsible legal services in New York requires more than what the new ABA Standards provide.”[3] Commentators on the proposed New York standard argued it simply mirrored the ABA’s requirement, with some additional paperwork, and would not improve the skills training of students. The graph below shows that the New York competency standard, indeed, does not appear to have spurred New York’s law schools to noticeably enhance their professional skills training of students or to provide more training than schools in states following only the ABA requirement. Although students at New York schools were offered more opportunities to enroll in simulation courses lacking the supervised experience of handling the complexities of real-life clients, opportunities to participate in a law clinic were unchanged and field placements decreased.

Source: ABA 509 Required Disclosures for 15 New York law schools

            Data from the recent Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE) 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education of 95% of law schools also show little measurable effect from the new experiential training standard.[4] Schools reported no increase in the median number of law clinic courses offered to their students since the prior 2016-17 survey and no increase in the percentage of students that graduate with a law clinic experience. Similarly, there was no reported increase in the percentage of students that graduate with an externship experience, with student demand for externship courses in 2019-20 up slightly from the last survey yet significantly less than externship demand in 2014 when the new standard was adopted. And, the percentage of schools requiring each J.D. student to participate in a law clinic or externship course as a condition of graduation only increased marginally from 20% in 2016-17 to 23% in the 2019-20 survey.

            Two thirds of schools in the CSALE survey did report making some changes to their curriculum in response to the ABA’s new experiential requirement, with almost half reporting the addition of a new law clinic, field placement, or simulation course(s), and one quarter of schools reporting increased slots available in an existing experiential course(s). A 2018 survey by Allison Korn and Laila Hlass also found that about two thirds of schools reported an expansion or enhancement of their course offerings in light of the ABA’s new experiential course requirement.[5]

            In both surveys, however, significant numbers of schools simply restructured existing courses to meet the experiential training definition, including merely relabeling parts of the first-year required legal writing course as “experiential” or offering a one-credit simulation component to a doctrinal course. Because the survey questions did not ask separately about law clinic and externship courses but grouped them with non-clinical simulation courses, the data do not reveal if legal education has increased live-client clinic or externship opportunities for students or simply adjusted to the new requirement in other ways. In the 2019-20 CSALE survey, there was a slight increase of approximately 5% in the reported percentage of students that participated in a law clinic or externship prior to graduation. But fewer than 20% of schools attributed any increase in clinic or externship demand to the new ABA requirement.

            To the extent the ABA’s new six-credit experiential requirement was intended to provide law students with more meaningful hands-on training in important professional skills, its own data do not show that intended result. In addition, surveys of schools on their implementation of the new training requirement do not show significant gains in skills training as a result of the new accreditation standard.

            It is time for the ABA to address these deficiencies by at a minimum requiring schools to report actual enrollments in law clinic and simulation courses so that the ABA can truly judge the effect of its requirement and prospective applicants to law schools will not continue to be potentially deceived by reports of ethereal “available” law clinic opportunities.[6]

            Yet students, and the clients they will soon represent in practice, deserve more than just enhanced reporting requirements. The ABA’s six-credit experiential requirement remains far below the skills training other professional schools require of their students.[7] Two recent studies on legal education have highlighted the need for greatly enhanced skills training, including mandatory clinical training prior to bar licensing.[8] The ABA should heed these calls for reform and revisit the proposals for fifteen-credits of experiential coursework and a mandatory, live-client clinical experience for all J.D. students.

[1] An ABA memorandum explained that “substantial instruction” equaled only one credit of lawyering skills instruction, which could be in a simulation course. Peter A. Joy, The Uneasy History of Experiential Education in U.S. Law Schools, 122 Dick. L. Rev. 551, 574 (2018), available at

[2] Prior to 2017, the ABA also required schools to report the actual number of students enrolled in law clinic and simulation courses, not just seats available. However, the ABA determined that asking schools to report actual enrollment, when the accreditation standard only requires “substantial opportunities,” was unnecessarily burdensome and now only requires schools to report the number of clinic and simulation opportunities that are potentially available to students.

[3] New York Court of Appeals, New Skills Competency Requirement for Admission to the Bar (Dec. 16, 2015), at; Task Force on Experiential Learning and Admission to the Bar: Report to Chief Judge Lippman and the New York Court of Appeals 3 (Nov. 2015), at

[4] Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education, 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education (2020), available at

[5] Allison Korn & Laila L. Hlass, Assessing the Experiential (R)Evolution, 65 Villanova L. Rev. 713, 731-33 (2020), available at

[6] One school with enrollments of approximately 300 students per class claimed in its 2018 509 Required Disclosure to prospective applicants over 1,500 seats available to students in its law clinics. Another school with a class of 100 reported over 300 clinic positions available, yet only 50 students actually enrolled in those purported available positions.

[7] See Robert R. Kuehn, Pricing Clinical Legal Education, 92 Denv. U. L. Rev. 1, App.. A (2014) (documenting one-quarter to one-third required credits in skills training for other professional schools), available at.

[8] Deborah Jones Merritt & Logan Cornett, Building a Better Bar 75-76 (2020), available at; Joan W. Howarth & Judith Welch Wegner, Ringing Changes: Systems Thinking About Legal Licensing, 13 Fla. Int’l L. Rev. 383, 430-31 (2019), available at

Creating Brave Spaces Throughout the Semester

On May 1st from 11:00am – 11:45am, Sherley Cruz (UTK) , Jamie Langowski (Suffolk), Catherine LaRaia (Suffolk), Caryn Mitchell-Munevar (New England), and Kelly Vieira (Suffolk) will present Implicit Bias 201: Strategies for Incorporating Implicit Bias Throughout a Course at the 2021 AALS Clinical Conference.  

As clinicians, we are intentional about incorporating discussions regarding implicit bias at orientation and within cross-cultural communication discussions. But, how many of us intentionally carve out spaces throughout the semester to discuss implicit bias or consistently create “brave spaces” to encourage students to raise issues of implicit bias?

At the Implicit Bias 201 session, participants will learn strategies to create spaces that deliberately and consistently weave discussions about implicit bias into seminar, supervision, and rounds. From ways to signal that implicit bias is a valued part of classroom to making a habit of asking for diverse points of view, we can easily continue to discuss implicit bias throughout the semester. Participants will create and share model language for syllabi and classroom exercises to make discussions about implicit bias an on-going, reflective classroom practice. For those interested, this session will serve as a launching pad for a working group dedicated to intentionally incorporating implicit bias into our classrooms.

Fostering Healthy Lawyers: Implementing Well-Being as a Learning Outcome for Ourselves and Our Students

Kendall Kerew (Georgia State), Brittany Stringfellow Otey (Pepperdine), Gail Silverstein (UC Hastings), and Kelly Terry (Arkansas – Little Rock) will host (AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education) Fostering Healthy Lawyers: Implementing Well-Being as a Learning Outcome for Ourselves and Our Students, on Saturday, May 1, at 9 a.m. Pacific, 11 Central, 12 Eastern.

Good health and well-being are essential for lawyers to provide competent representation and experience fulfillment in their careers.  Even before the pandemic made this point emphatically, the ABA’s  “Report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being” found that the legal profession is falling short in promoting and ensuring the well-being of its members. While legal employers report that resiliency, and stress and crisis management are important skills for new attorneys, law schools often fall short in focusing on the development of these skills. Rather, many students who enter law school healthy develop mental health and substance abuse problems that follow them into the profession.

In the coming weeks, the ABA will address two relevant proposed revisions to the ABA Standards (one requiring law schools to provide substantial opportunity for the development of professional identity, which encompasses wellness and well-being, and one requiring law schools to provide information on law student well-being resources). In light of these proposed revisions, this session will explore how clinics and externships are uniquely positioned to incorporate and emphasize well-being, the accompanying challenges and opportunities, and the tools to implement and assess well-being — including an assessment rubric — as a learning outcome for both ourselves and students.

Planning for Resilience

Clinicians know all too well how difficult it can be to sustain our energy, health, and hope over the course of a semester, an academic year, and our careers.  One tool to build sustenance to keep at it, and to be there for our students, colleagues, and institutions, is rooted in the practice of resilience.  Resilience is a concept that is most helpful as a well-formed concept, rather than a generalized battle cry.  To this end, at the AALS clinical conference on April 29 (11:00-11:45 a.m. EDT), Elizabeth Keyes (University of Baltimore) and Anita Sinha (American) will lead a session entitled “Planning for Resilience.”

The faculty guiding the session acknowledge how the invocation of resilience can be frustrating (or worse) for individuals and communities who have faced racism, violence, and other injustices, typically for generations.  They hope to alleviate the potential burden of resilience by suggesting how it can be a collective endeavor, and how the process of self-definition can lead to concrete movement toward resilience.  The session will endeavor to build on an Audre Lorde quote: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”      

The session will collectively define the concept of resilience, and then engage in an exercise that assists participants to begin defining for themselves what matters to them personally, so to build a sense of self-definition that can be used to filter which opportunities they pursue, and which they decide to decline.  The session will conclude by connecting the concepts of self-definition and resilience to the active process of planning and investing in ourselves.

Fostering Wholehearted Lawyers through Clinical Legal Education

By: Susan L. Brooks, Associate Dean for Experiential Learning, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

            What does it mean to be a wholehearted lawyer?  Brené Brown defines wholehearted living as cultivating tools that allow us to experience a sense of love, worthiness, and belonging through daily practices of courage, compassion, and connection. 

I’ve discussed wholeheartedness in connection with Relational Lawyering, which I’ve defined as habits of mind and practices that center relationships, including the relationship with ourselves (personal), with each other (interpersonal), and the broader structures and institutions in which we live and work (systemic).  A relational approach is  grounded in the interconnectedness and mutuality of all beings.  All law teachers can bring wholeheartedness into the classroom if we adhere to the following core principles:

  • Teach from a place of kindness and curiosity with humility and transparency.
  • Recognize that everyone matters and that everyone wants to be seen and heard. ‘Mattering’ correlates with academic success and improved wellbeing
  • Appreciate our own contexts, including our values, multiple and intersectional cultural influences, identities, and histories, AND appreciate the contexts of others with whom we work and interact, and those who are impacted by our work.
  • Adopt a strengths-oriented, optimistic, growth mindset teaching and learning orientation.
  • Apply a relational ethic of care by ensuring everyone is given a voice, is listened to deeply and heard, and is responded to with dignity, respect, openness, and a generosity of spirit. This ethic of care applies with respect to our own self-compassion, as well as at an interpersonal level with students and others, and also represents a positive vision of lawyers’ professional roles and their potential impact on society.

In the context of clinical legal education, we have unique opportunities to apply these principles and foster them in our students through fully embracing our roles as teachers and supervisors.  By encouraging wholeheartedness in our students, we can help them become more effective in their immediate work with clients and others they encounter in student practice and support their positive professional identity formation.  At the same time, we can increase our own effectiveness and gain more enjoyment and fulfillment in our work. 

            I’m excited to offer a concurrent session at the upcoming clinical conference (Thursday, April 29th, 4:30-5:15) where we’ll explore teaching wholehearted lawyering in our clinical courses and programs. I’ll share core tools and practices from my recent clinical teaching experiences in a community lawyering clinic and an externship course.  I’m also eager to hear about ideas and tools others have been using that can foster wholeheartedness, including colleagues who haven’t previously thought of their work along these lines.

            In the session we’ll explore wholehearted practices using four themes that have become my teaching mantras over the past few years. All are drawn directly from the work of adrienne maree brown and are key elements of what she calls Emergent Strategy in her book by the same name.  While brown writes about these ideas in the context of social justice movements, they offer meaningful guidance for our work with students at the personal and interpersonal levels as well.  I share them here with deep gratitude to brown, my co-facilitators of the Law and Social Change Jam, and its sponsoring organization, YES! (

  • What we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system–“Fractals”

The idea of fractals comes from the natural world, where complex patterns replicate themselves beginning at a tiny scale and growing ever larger.  Appreciating fractals helps us understand the reasons we need to emphasize the importance on improving our own self-awareness as well as that of our students. Fractals teach us that how we are with ourselves deeply affects how we interact with others on an interpersonal basis, and that those personal and interpersonal dynamics have broad ripple effects on the larger systems in which we live and work, especially those we aim to transform through our clinical work.  Attending to what’s happening at the small scale means embracing small acts of kindness we can extend to others, including our students, clients, and colleagues.  It also means working to avoid microaggressions as much as possible and acknowledging when small (or large) unintended harms have taken place, so that there can be a possibility for accountability, repair, forgiveness, and healing to take place.

  • What we pay attention to grows— “Attention liberation.” 

This phenomenon demonstrates the reasons we need to focus on strengths—our own, our students’ and those of our clients and client communities. We can create new possibilities by asking and reflecting on what is working well, and how do we do more of it, rather than only asking what is broken and how we can fix it.  Attention liberation also invites us to notice our own experience and our reactions, especially places of discomfort or stretch, and embrace this discomfort as a necessary part of learning. By paying more attention to our own experience, we can become more comfortable with being uncomfortable for the sake of our own growth and transformation as well as the transformation of our interpersonal relationships and our society.  Attention liberation can ultimately support our efforts to move toward the liberation of historically marginalized individuals and communities, and to achieve equity, inclusion, belonging, and wellbeing for all.

  • Move at the Speed of Trust

The work of wholeheartedness is slow work. Building trust takes time and requires sensitivity to all the issues identified above, along with a trauma-informed and healing-centered lens on relationship-building. We need to recognize and honor this need for slowness by taking time for what I and others call “container building” in our clinics, meaning that we need to invest significant time and energy early on to lay the foundations for the work of wholeheartedness. We then need to check in regularly and genuinely invite and be responsive to feedback.  Building the container has some specific elements, including reaching out to students prior to the beginning of class and inviting them to share about themselves and an concerns they may have; creating a syllabus that includes relational learning goals and outcomes; acknowledging who we are and our histories, and where and how our clinics are situated;  welcoming our students whole selves’ into the work; using invitational language and meaning it; inviting sharing about values, particularly the values we bring into conflict; developing community agreements grounded in those shared values, including a commitment to create Brave Space; talking about language and the importance of choosing our words carefully and speaking from the “I” and from the heart; setting intentions; and incorporating music, gentle movement, breathing exercises, poetry, and other contemplative readings.  

  • Emphasize Presence over Prep; Critical Connections over Critical Mass

Let me be clear: strong preparation is essential to our and our students’ clinical work.  AND–by moving at the speed of trust and spending time building the container, we and our students can maximize the potential positive impact of our work by deepening our relationships and interconnectedness at all levels–what I call mindful engagement.  Mindful engagement means practicing mindfulness as a set of tools linked to our sense of purpose and to creating a more just world. Engaging in this whole bodied, wholehearted presence, means being able to slow down and notice what is happening for us moment by moment in our daily lives—meaning our bodily sensations and emotions as well as our analytical minds. To become more fully present, we need to listen with an open mind and open heart, to bring empathy and compassion to the difficult work of authentic relationship building across differences. We need to become more aware of our assumptions, biases, blind spots, power, privilege, and social location. We need to slow down enough to suspend judgments and make more intentional choices and be more reflective. We need to hold space for stillness, sadness, joy, and creativity. We also need to be willing to be vulnerable, to unmask and reveal more of ourselves, while also maintaining healthy boundaries. We need to model both Chutzpah-the ability to speak our truth—and Humility. Brené Brown encourages us to embrace this combination of traits as “sacred awkwardness.” 


Susan L. Brooks, Mindful Engagement and Relational Lawyering, 48 Southwestern L. Rev.267 (2019) (available at:

Susan L. Brooks, Fostering Wholehearted Lawyers: Practical Guidance for Supporting Law Students’ Professional Identity Formation, 14 St. Thomas L. Rev. 412 (2018). (available at:

adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds 15, 41-42, 50(2017) (available at: Emergent+Strategy+full+book.pdf.)

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are 1-6 (2010).

Mickey Scottbey Jones, Invitation to Brave Space (2017) (available at:

Shawn Ginwright, The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered engagement (2018 ) (available at:

Jenni Whelan, Grounding Professional Identity Formation in Wholeheartedness in Clinical Legal Education (April 15, 2021) (unpublished manuscript on file with author).

YES! Facilitation Manual (2017) (available at:

AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education

Ann Shalleck (American) and Conrad Johnson (Columbia) will host Presentation Principles, as part of the AALS Clinical Conference on Wednesday, April 28th from 3:45-4:30. In the digital age, lawyers have a broader palette of presentation options and need to make thoughtful choices about how to communicate. While digital technology has changed the options lawyers have to present information and heightened our awareness of the vast array of possibilities, lawyers have always had to decide among available technologies how to communicate many types of information in different contexts.   This concurrent session will provide you with a transferrable set of “Presentation Principles” that apply in any presentation context.

Through an interactive mock classroom exercise, Ann and Conrad will demonstrate one way to engage students in learning how to construct and analyze any presentation so that you can see how these organizing principles operate in the context of seminar teaching. Thereafter, we will transfer the framework to a supervision meeting in which students apply the principles in practice with our guidance and then reflect on the consequences of their presentation choices. With your participation, this could be an enjoyable and useful time together. 

Conference on Clinical Legal Education: “Taking Experiential Learning on the Road: The Benefits of Service-Learning Projects”

Service-learning projects provide an opportunity for experiential learning in a variety of contexts.  They expose students to different practice settings, allow law schools to respond to crises or provide legal services to underserved communities, and broaden opportunities for community engagement. At the AALS clinical conference on May 1 (12:00-12:45 p.m. EDT), Kristina Campbell (UDC), Michelle Ewert (Washburn), Katy Ramsey (Memphis), and Emily Torstveit Ngara (Georgia State) will lead a concurrent session entitled “Taking Experiential Learning on the Road: The Benefits of Service-Learning Projects.”

In this presentation, the clinical faculty will describe the service-learning projects that complement their clinics’ regular activities.  These projects include “know your rights” presentations; brief services to help clients address immediate discrete legal issues including employment law, consumer law, immigration law, criminal records expungement, eviction defense and family separation planning for people at risk of detention or deportation; criminal records expungement Clean Slate Day; advising public housing tenants on lease renewal questions; translation and interpretation assistance; development of self-help materials; assisting local partners in the representation of individuals detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and observing and documenting court proceedings. In addition to providing pro bono services, students meet with local practitioners and in some projects participate in networking events to promote rural practice opportunities.

This concurrent session will focus on ways to pivot from existing clinical programming to respond to new crises, develop community partners to build relationships within communities and implement remote programming in locations where clinics don’t have a regular presence, obtain financial support for new programming, and conduct assessment and evaluation of student performance.

2021 Conference on Clinical Legal Education (AALS)

Wednesday, April 28 – Saturday, May 1, 2021
Reckoning with our Past and Building for the Future

Over the next week, the Best Practices blog will share posts from sessions at the upcoming AALS Conference on Legal Education. More information about the conference is available here.

This year’s conference theme is Reckoning With our Past and Building for the Future. As experiential legal educators who teach in-house clinics and externship courses, we find ourselves in unprecedented times, reacting to stressful external conditions while also coming to terms with practices that have perpetuated inequality and injustice.  This conference engages with this new reality, while also seeking to shift our collective gaze inward, to focus on ways we can strengthen ourselves and our community of educators, in order to respond effectively to today’s challenges.  Consistent with core clinical habits of introspection and reflection, we will examine ways to reimagine the foundations of our professional work, including our collaborative relationships, instructional approaches, and forms of community engagement.  We will also explore ways to fortify ourselves as individuals, with specific attention to wellness and professional growth.  Finally, during this transformative moment in society, we will critically assess our assumptions and long-standing practices, with an eye towards advancing antiracism and inclusiveness.

Conference Subthemes:

Conference Subthemes

  1. Collaboration.  Collaboration is key to our individual and collective sustainability, particularly in the challenging external environment in which we find ourselves.  What are effective models for collaboration across clinics, subject matter areas, and disciplines?  How can we promote collaboration and linkages across different types of experiential teaching (e.g., in-house clinics, externships, practica, and simulation courses)?  What types of collaborations are needed for our clinical work, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and movements for racial justice?  What other types of collaboration might the future require, and how can we begin cultivating those partnerships?
  2. Foundational and Emerging Lawyering Skills.  As clinicians, instruction on lawyering skills is central to our pedagogical project.  Moments of introspection and reflection permit us to examine our past practices in this area.  How can we enhance our pedagogy vis-a-vis core lawyering skills, such as interviewing, client counseling, case theory development, trial advocacy, and negotiation?  As we confront a new reality and look to the future, what emerging lawyering skills should we be integrating into our curricula, and how should we teach those skills?  How does the shift towards remote instruction and adjudication, and the ubiquity of technology, shape our pedagogy around foundational and emerging lawyering skills?
  3. Mindfulness, Self-Care, and Resilience.  Given the unprecedented stressors that we face in our professional lives and in society at large, wellness is a top priority.  What are we teaching our students about self-care and mindfulness, and how are incorporating these topics into our courses?  What practices should we as clinicians adopt to keep ourselves strong, focused, and intentional in our work? As we continue to navigate an uncertain future, how do we develop the quality of resilience — both in ourselves and in our students?  
  4. Professional Development.  The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic downturn have created an uncertain future for law schools and legal educators.  Moreover, the need to respond to an ever-changing environment leaves little time for contemplating and furthering our professional growth.  What are best practices for clinicians at different stages in their careers (e.g., fellows, pre-tenure, mid-career, approaching retirement), given the unique times we are living in?   What guidance and support can we provide for clinicians who are fighting for more equal status within their institutions?  Given law schools’ focus on experiential education, bar passage, and job placement, how can we leverage our strengths as clinicians? What challenges and opportunities does the current environment present for the professional advancement of clinicians? 
  5. Clinics and the Community.  Community engagement and the advancement of social justice are often central to our work as clinical legal educators.  In the current social and political moment, many clinicians are deepening their community-based work. As we take this moment to reflect, what are some critiques of existing models of community engagement?  How do we ensure that our approaches are sustainable?  How do we balance responsiveness to pressing community concerns with the need for stability in our teaching?  As we look towards an uncertain future, what models of community-based work should we embrace?
  6. Critically Examining Our Past.  This transformational moment offers an opportunity for individual clinicians, and for the clinical community as a whole, to critically examine our past practices, including assumptions about our work as well as the structures in which we operate.  This process of self-examination also includes introspection about biases embedded in our work and the steps needed to promote antiracism and inclusiveness.  What aspects of our community and its work deserve more careful examination and critique?  How can we remedy existing deficiencies and reimagine the role and contributions of clinical legal educators?


Nearly a year has passed since historic events and protests, domestically and internationally, brought renewed attention to racial justice and the discriminatory and racist practices ever present in our social structures. The Black Lives Matter protests called attention to the unjust and disproportionate treatment of Black and Brown individuals by law enforcement and other institutions. More recently, violent attacks have roiled Asian communities, which have already been the targets of violence and hateful rhetoric since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And publicized incidents at various institutions of higher learning have demonstrated the failure of these institutions to protect students from racism, even within the walls of academia. As law schools and faculties reflect on how to advance racial justice and equality, the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) calls upon law school administrations and faculties, including experiential faculty, to play an active role in reforming our institutions and transforming our communities to be anti-racist. 

An anti-racist curriculum is essential to disrupting and undoing racism in all its forms. Experiential courses are a critical component of any effective anti-racist curriculum, as such courses often allow for individualized student engagement, via legal work in local and marginalized communities, in order to promote social change and access to justice. 

But experiential faculty should not rest on traditional notions of clinical and externship pedagogy. We encourage experiential faculty to actively implement principles of anti-racist education into their teaching. As recent events have made clear, students from marginalized backgrounds have long been considered less qualified and competent than their peers by some faculty, including law faculty. Such treatment creates an inequitable and hostile educational environment that can impede students’ ability to learn and succeed. As experiential faculty, we are particularly concerned with how racist and biased views from faculty members can negatively affect student performance in experiential courses. The elimination of biases and the perception of biases in grading and assessment is particularly important in experiential courses, which do not generally employ blind or anonymous grading. Experiential faculty must therefore create an intellectual environment that promotes a climate of equity and inclusivity for all students.  

CLEA also encourages law schools to treat their experiential faculty equitably in terms of pay, job security, and status, as those faculty members are often disproportionately women and racial minorities. Inequalities between faculty members communicate to students, whether implicitly or explicitly, the relative value of those faculty. Moreover, even as women and racial minorities tend to be overrepresented in experiential faculties as compared to non-experiential faculties, law schools must do more to increase the diversity in their experiential faculties. As a recent essay by the CLEA Faculty Equity & Inclusion Committee demonstrates, the racial diversity of clinical faculty has remained stagnant in recent decades. The need for diverse faculties in experiential education is self-evident. Demographics matter, and any lack of diversity in experiential faculty negatively affects students, clients, and communities alike. CLEA has led efforts to diversify clinical and externship faculties and will continue that work in upcoming programming at the 2021 AALS Clinical Conference, in materials developed with the AALS Clinical Section Policy Committee, and in legal scholarship. We look forward to continuing this work alongside our colleagues in the coming months and years through specific recommendations aimed at improving the dismal demographical data that our research has identified.  

Law schools should take proactive steps to ensure that their faculty members work to eliminate biases and racism in their teaching and should support their students of color, who inevitably face disparate treatment and shoulder the burdens of responding to such incidents. They should also prioritize hiring faculty members that reflect the communities they serve in their experiential programs and treat those faculty members equitably. Despite the recent attention given to anti-racist initiatives, law schools have much work to do in their quest to develop a more equitable, just, and inclusive discipline and profession. CLEA looks forward to working with its members and other members of legal academia to further these goals. 

This statement was drafted and approved by the CLEA Faculty Equity & Inclusion Committee and approved by the CLEA Board of Directors.  

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning – Reflecting Back and Moving Forward: Effective Instruction in Online, Hybrid, and In-Person Learning Environments

Conference Structure:  Conference sessions will take place on Thursday, June 10, and Friday, June 11. All conference sessions will be via Zoom, including three plenary sessions from experts in the field of online education and more than a dozen concurrent workshops presented by law school colleagues from across the country.  Descriptions of the specific topics for the plenary and concurrent sessions will be provided in subsequent communications.

Registration Information: Attendance is FREE, although registration is required. We hope attendees will join for any and all sessions that seem relevant and interesting to their current teaching focus and practice.

To Register, Please Use This Link:

Hosted by Texas A&M Law, the Network for Justice, and the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities

WEBINAR THIS WEEK, REGISTER TODAY:”Training Social Justice Lawyers Today”law and social justice graphicTexas A&M University School of Law, the Network for Justice, and the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities present a FREE webinar series to examine pressing issues in social justice and the law, particularly as they impact the Latinx community. Please join us this Thursday to discuss “Training Social Justice Lawyers Today” on April 8, at 12:00 Noon Central.  Registersocial-justice-apr8-webinar-presenters2Presenters:• Carrie Bettinger-López, University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic
• Denisse Córdova Montes, University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic
• Deborah Archer, NYU School of Law
• Moderator: Louise Trubek, University of Wisconsin Law School
      Today’s world demands new approaches to social justice lawyering and new ways to train law students. We’ll discuss needed reform in scholarship, courses and clinical curriculum, and pedagogy. This webinar brings together law school teachers who are exploring how law and lawyers can contribute to the struggle for a more just society.

The Othering of the AAPI Community in America

Friday, 9 April 2021
Noon Pacific (3:00 Eastern)

This week’s SALT webinar will explore the long, contested relationship of the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities in America from both an historical and contemporary lens.  

Please join a moderated discussion with Dean Sean Scott, Professor Vinay Harpalani and Professor Rose Cuison-Villazor on Friday, April 9, 12-1 pst (3-4 eastern).  Professor Harpalani’s scholarship focuses on the intersections between race, education, and law, as he explores the nuances of racial diversity and identity from various disciplinary perspectives.  Professor Rose Cuison-Villazor is an expert in immigration, citizenship, property law and race and the law.  


On Experiential Education

By: Luz Herrera

Allison Korn and Laila Hlass’ research, documented in Assessing the Experiential (R)evolution, offers a revealing  snapshot of how law schools have adapted to the ABA accreditation standards that requires six units of experiential education. The survey data provided by experiential educators from 126 law schools in 2018, provide the basis for a series of recommendations the authors make about what law schools should consider as they continue to grow and maintain their experiential program.  One of the many questions they ask us to consider is whether law schools are valuing teaching loads and providing sufficient status for experiential instructors to be sustainable?

The issue of status in experiential education has long been, and continues to be, a difficult subject for law schools, particularly for clinical faculty. In 2000, the AALS president formed a Committee on Good Practices Regarding Clinical Faculty that was charged with convincing law schools to integrate clinicians “as full participants in the legal education enterprise.” The committee, however, did not issue any recommendations or conclusions.  In 2005, the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education took up the charge and appointed a Task Force on the Status of Clinicians and the Legal Academy to examine clinician status in U.S. law schools and “to recommend appropriate models for clinical appointments within the legal academy.” After reviewing CSALE survey data, the Task Force found various types of positions for clinicians but overall little parity between them and non-clinical faculty. After additional input at town halls and balancing the various views and realities of law schools, the Task Force set forth four core principles to guide status decisions:

“(1) Clinical education is a foundational and essential component of legal education;
(2) The legal academy and profession benefit from full inclusion of clinical faculty on all matters affecting the mission, function, and direction of law schools;
(3) There is no justification for creating hierarchies between clinical and non-clinical faculty; and
(4) The standards for hiring, retention, and promotion of clinical faculty must recognize and value the responsibilities and methodologies of clinical teaching.”

Ultimately the Task Force concluded that the gold standard that exemplified these principles requires clinical faculty to be full-time and placed on a unitary tenure track since tenure offers the greatest security of employment. The Task Force recommended that at least a core group of full-time clinical faculty should be on the unitary tenure track in order to have similar status that ultimately translates into academic freedom, in addition to full voting and governance rights. It urged law schools to develop standards for hiring, promotion and retention that account for the responsibilities and approaches that clinical faculty employ. The Task Force found that separate clinical tenure and long-term contract models were inferior because they usually provided less security and governance rights. It also urged that short term positions and fellowships be limited.

As clinicians advocated for greater status and inclusion in law schools, the American Law Deans Association advocated for greater control on hiring decisions. Control included resisting changes to accreditation standards that required security of position for clinical faculty. The history of the resistance is well documented by Peter Joy in his article, ABA Standard 405(c): Two Steps Forward and One Step Back for Legal Education. Ultimately the ABA Standards Review Committee amended ABA Standard 405(c) to require law schools to offer “full-time clinical faculty members a form of security of position reasonably similar to tenure.” Standard 405(c) permitted law schools to require clinical faculty to have similar responsibilities as other full-time faculty members but still allowed law schools to build experiential programs that included short-term appointments as long as the clinical program was primarily “staffed by full-time faculty members.”

Despite efforts to improve the status of clinical faculty and promote more experiential education, the growth of experiential education at ABA law schools seems to have only further cemented the legal profession’s caste system at most law schools. As Bob Kuehn’s recent blog post explains, the most recent survey data by the Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE) shows a reduction in clinical tenure and tenure track positions in the last twelve years. Since 2010, clinic and externship hiring has largely been for contract positions and within the top ranked 25 law schools, tenure is almost non-existent for this group.

Former AALS President Dean Darby Dickerson recently penned a call to Abolish the Academic Caste System within legal education. In her essay she calls on law schools to acknowledge the contributions of non-tenure-track faculty by (1) converting faculty to tenure lines or develop processes that permits these non-tenure line faculty members to convert to tenure-line status; (2) calling on deans to equalize pay of non-tenure track faculty; and (3) shift the law school culture to show more respect for non-tenure line faculty as a way of prioritizing community and not upholding the caste system. She explains that non-tenure line faculty often contribute much more service and teaching than their colleagues. Dean Dickerson recognizes that often these faculty members are not provided equal voice in faculty governance or hiring, given similar faculty development support and the physical location of their offices are often removed from the law school’s core operation. She explains that salaries, job security, and respect for these faculty members are far less equitable. Dean Dickerson also acknowledges that not all non-tenure line faculty want tenure.

The  last CSALE Survey supports the view that “insufficient faculty status” is not the top priority for clinicians as it was listed by only 33 percent of the law school clinic respondents and 23 percent of field placement respondents as the major challenge to their program. However, other CSALE responses that ranked higher in the category of major challenges reflect a lack of institutional investment in clinical programs, overburdened clinical personnel, and few clinical faculty lines.

In their article, Korn and Hlass recommend that law schools ensure security status and value teaching loads of clinical faculty. They also encourage us to think about providing support and professional development for clinicians. What are our options when the trend is to hire more contract faculty and adjuncts to teach clinics, externships, and other experiential programs? How do we do that when many deans view the smaller class enrollment of clinics and externships as not equivalent to grading finals in a large doctrinal class? When our academic deans tell us that teaching first year classes is a good marketing opportunity to ensure greater visibility and therefore higher clinic enrollment? When externship expansion is preferred over clinic development because it is much cheaper to bring in adjuncts and convert staff positions to lecturer status?

Security of position is essential for any experiential dean to be effective. There are still many deans who are unwilling adopters of experiential education and who view it as too expensive an investment that does not further the academic integrity. Tenure, whether through the traditional route or a similar clinical track, should offer sufficient security of position to permit the head of an experiential program to fully participate in hiring decisions and to have disagreements with their deans – whether that is the main dean or the academic dean. An experiential dean often has to work with program directors and faculty with a variety of statuses. They must have enough status to feel safe telling a senior colleague with tenure that their seminar cannot be classified as experiential just because they want larger enrollment. However, the success of any experiential programs depends on the sustainability of all those who work in those programs, not just its leader.

It is critical to have a cohort of other faculty teaching in clinic with security of position who can help educate the larger community about the value of our work. Staff attorneys, adjuncts, and fellows are fungible. They can help build a program but there is little security for them. So it is important to be clear when advertising for soft money positions that their role will be different than other faculty as a result of funding and the existing caste system in legal education. To be clear, there are few jobs in our country that offer as much security of employment as some of our jobs. Still, when most around you have security and you don’t, it is something you notice, even if others insist it doesn’t make a difference. 

Having a cohort of clinicians with status at any institution helps facilitate the program’s growth and increases the likelihood of hiring for the program. Still, problems arise when unitary tenure track clinicians are given higher teaching loads than others. A tenure line professor on a unitary track is often expected to meet the same scholarship requirements as their colleagues who do not have to recruit clients, educate and train students to do client work, manage caseloads, and transition client matters at the end of the semester. While there are some schools that have little disparities between faculty on clinical tracks and those on traditional tenure lines, most have clear distinctions just by the virtue of a different title. It is important to provide full-time clinical faculty, regardless of their status, with a manageable workload and plenty of faculty development opportunities such as pre-tenure faculty leaves, summer coverage, administrative staff support, co-teaching opportunities, and staff attorneys.  It is also helpful to support clinical faculty, whether they have status or not, with continuing education and helping them increase their profile in the local and law school community.

Valuing teaching loads is much harder to offer a prescription for because all law schools have different standards and there is not sufficient understanding amongst our non-clinic colleagues of all that goes into teaching a clinic. Still, it is important to insist on fairly balanced teaching loads for clinicians and to provide newer faculty some time to develop their clinic before launching. It is hard to explain to colleagues who teach 50-80 student classes that a clinic of 8-10 students is more or equivalent work. But few of them would trade with us, if given the chance.  

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