Teaching Students the Art of Giving (and Receiving) Feedback and Sharing IDEASS


By Kaci Bishop, UNC School of Law

Law students may be accustomed to receiving feedback, but as lawyers, they will also be called on to give feedback.  They may review a colleague’s brief or contract, adapt samples, help moot a case or supervise a summer or new associate, etc.  Learning how to give feedback effectively can also help them develop their critical eye to assess and revise their own work.  Giving feedback effectively is thus another skill worth teaching. [1]

In my classes, students have opportunities to exchange feedback with peers on written assignments through structured peer reviews and through moots and case rounds.  More informally, they exchange feedback regularly with their partner as they work on their clients’ cases, and as we debrief together in team meetings.

To be sure we have a shared vocabulary and framework for giving feedback, I include in the beginning of the semester a lesson on giving feedback.  It also sets a tone for receiving feedback.  My stated objectives for the lesson are to (1) reflect on how they have received and given feedback in the past; (2) explore what it means to have a growth mindset; (3) learn a framework for giving effective feedback; and (4) practice using that framework.

I begin by having them answer polls about what goals or concerns they have had when giving feedback in the past and then how they like to receive feedback.  Often, the polls reveal that most students want to help someone improve their work but are concerned they will hurt the receiver’s feelings—while they themselves prefer direct and honest (which students often frame to me as “harsh”) feedback.  We discuss these tensions, and circle back to them throughout the class and the semester.  We also explore and discuss the differences between direct and directive feedback, and I share how I usually give feedback (e.g., asking them questions to help them puzzle out what they need to do to make the product more effective or sometimes identifying the issue and modeling one but letting them find where they did it other times).

Figure 1: Sample Poll Question Assessing How Students Like to Receive Feedback

Discussing the polls segues to talking about what it means to have a growth mindset, because the polls usually demonstrate that the students’ best experiences in giving and receiving feedback were when they were open and ready to learn.  I introduce (or re-introduce) Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory work, highlighting the differences between the fixed mindset (intelligence is static) and the growth mindset (intelligence is malleable).  I emphasize how we all occupy both mindsets at different times, even though we may gravitate to one over the other. I emphasize, too, how we can learn to recognize when we are occupying a fixed mindset and then work to reorient ourselves to be in one of growth.[2]  For example, as a 1L, I struggled to grasp Contract law.  It would have been easy to give up and conclude that I was just not a Contracts person and write off the class (and my ability to understand it).  That’s a fixed mindset.  To succeed, I had to shift to a growth mindset.  I had to shift to thinking that while I was not yet understanding Contracts, I was capable of understanding it and needed to put forth more time and effort to do so. 

Figure 2: Slide with a summary of Carol Dweck’s mindset attributes.

One’s mindset is important for feedback—both receiving and giving. When a person is occupying a fixed mindset when receiving feedback, she is entering the exchange with the goal of receiving validation and approval.  She will be more resistant to criticism, no matter how constructive.  Similarly, when giving feedback, a person occupying a fixed mindset may offer feedback aimed more at demonstrating how smart he is or with performing if in front of other people than responding to the goals of the person seeking the feedback.  Alternatively, someone giving feedback while occupying a fixed mindset may not think he has anything of value to add and thus not offer much in the exchange.  Getting into a growth mindset—for both the receiver and giver of feedback—and seeing the exchange as an opportunity for both to learn and improve is essential for sharing feedback effectively.  If both the giver and the receiver are occupying a growth mindset when exchanging feedback, they will learn and draw inspiration from each other and propel each other to higher levels of achievement.

In addition to having a growth mindset, I advise the students that when giving feedback, they should focus on the skills or product not on the person, personality, or identity.  And their feedback should be constructive; meaning, it should be based on observations not opinions, be concrete and achievable, and limited.  The giver of feedback should not overwhelm the receiver with tons of pieces of things to correct and should always include at least one thing that should be preserved because it is already effective.

I then share the following framework for giving feedback, complete with the (possibly silly) mnemonic: IDEASS.

Figure 3: IDEASS Framework

The first objective when someone is asked to give feedback to another is to identify the priorities or goals of the person seeking the feedback.  What would the receiver most like to get out of the peer review, moot, or rounds?  What feedback would be most helpful?  How do they prefer to receive feedback?  Are there particular questions the receiver has that they are seeking answers to?  When is the product due and how much time do they have to revise?  These questions help set expectations to guide the exchange.

The student then needs to diagnose the issues.  This may be difficult; it’s also crucial because it focuses the feedback and helps to train the analytical skills and critical eye of both the giver and the receiver.  To diagnose the issues, the giver of feedback needs to understand and articulate what the underlying norms or rules of the skill or product are.  For example, if giving feedback on headings in a brief, the underlying rule for effective headings might be that they should be framed as conclusions that blend law and fact allowing the writer’s arguments to appear as an exoskeleton of the brief.  For a direct exam, the underlying rule might be that the questions should be open-ended rather than leading. These underlying issues or rules might mirror what the receiver of feedback identified as their priorities.  They might have asked for help making their direct exam more open-ended, for instance.  If the underlying norms or rules for the product are not clear, the giver of feedback should askthe person seeking feedback what they intended or how they chose to do what they did, then the giver can share observations about the product or skill.

The student giving feedback should share one or two effective aspects and then one or two areas of focus for improvement.  Often “feedback” seems only to encompass the latter but sharing what worked well or what was effectively done helps the giver know what to keep or what to replicate going forward.  Both feedback about effective aspects and those that could be improved or more effective should be shared as what the giver observed.

Sharing observations, not opinions, helps both receiver and giver to continue to occupy a growth mindset and to maintain the goal that both are learning through the exchange.  The giver should focus on what they noticed about the skill or product and reflect or even replay what the person seeking the feedback said or did.  For example, if the student seeking feedback on a direct exam asked a leading question, the student giving the feedback might note: “you asked your client: ‘Were you trying to leave your partner when you went to stay at your grandmother’s?’ That is a leading question.”

After reflecting what she noticed, the student giving the feedback can then suggest next steps or solutions.  How might someone do it differently next time?  The student may also model a solution.  She might, for example, say: “Instead, you could ask: ‘Why did you go to stay at your grandmother’s?’”  Alternatively, the student giving the feedback might ask the student who did the direct exam to arrive at a solution by saying something like: “How might you ask an open-ended question to get the same point?” At this phase, if possible, the person seeking the feedback could try again or revise the product, incorporating the feedback.

Putting it all together, a student’s feedback on the direct exam hypothetical may look like this:

  • You wanted me to assess your direct exam.
  • Your questions have a good rhythm and build upon each other in a way that allows your client’s story to come out persuasively.
  • Some of your questions were not yet open-ended. For example, at one point, you asked your client: ‘Were you trying to leave your partner when you went to stay at your grandmother’s?” That is a leading question.  Instead, you could ask: “Why did you go to stay at your grandmother’s?”

Beyond sharing IDEASS with their peer, I encourage students to also use growth language[3] in giving feedback—such as the words: yet, and, and opportunity—and to express gratitude by thanking each other for the time, feedback, and opportunity to help.  Then, to finish the lesson, I have my students practice using the framework with a simulation.  I share a video of a simulated client interview (e.g., one from the Legal Interviewing and Language Access Film Project, created by Lindsay M. Harris and Laila L. Hlass, which as one of the participants in the lightning session at the AALS Clinical Conference in the spring of 2021 noted is the gift that keeps on giving!) and have the students share their feedback to the student interviews in the video.  The students thus get to practice using this IDEASS framework for feedback in a low-stakes way.  We can then revisit this shared vocabulary and framework as needed throughout the semester when they are called upon to give feedback to a peer—and continue to build this skill along with many others.


[1] This blog post summarizes the lightning session at the AALS Clinical Conference 2021 by the same name.

[2] In addition to exploring Carol Dweck’s work, here are some other resources for incorporating her mindset theory into legal education: Corie Rosen, The Method and The Message; Heidi K. Brown, The Emotionally Intelligent Law Professor; Paula J. Manning, Word to the Wise; and Megan Bess, Grit, Growth Mindset, and the Path to Successful Lawyering;

[3] I explore growth language in more depth in my article on Framing Failure in the Legal Classroom.

Racial Inequity on the Bar Exam

By Professor Deborah Jones Merritt, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

Stark racial disparities mark our profession’s licensing system. Last year, 88% of White candidates passed the bar exam on their first try. For BIPOC candidates, pass rates were significantly lower: 66% for Black candidates, 76% for Latinx candidates, 78% for both Hawaiian and Native American candidates, and 80% for Asian candidates. These racial disparities have existed for decades. Why do they persist? And why do we, as a profession, tolerate them?

New research from the AccessLex Institute confirms what many scholars have suspected: candidates who have the resources to devote extensive time to bar preparation are more likely to succeed than those who lack those resources. The bar exam is a test of family and financial resources, rather than minimum competence to practice law. White candidates are more likely to benefit from those resources than BIPOC ones, and the bar exam mirrors those differences.

But the AccessLex study goes further: it shows that, even after controlling for a host of factors (including study time and LSAT score), White candidates are more likely than candidates of color to pass the bar exam. What explains that racial tilt?

In a recent op-ed, Claudia Angelos, Carol Chomsky, Joan Howarth, and I suggest that at least part of the answer lies in the nature of high-stakes testing. Research repeatedly demonstrates that stereotype threat affects performance on these exams. Test-takers who belong to groups that our culture stereotypes as low-performing on a particular test will perform less ably than they would absent that stereotype. The threat, notably, hits high-achieving individuals particularly hard. And it stretches across race and gender. White men, for example, perform less well on math tests when they are reminded that “Asians outperform Whites” in math. Our profession, in sum, has created a licensing system that predictably and inexorably favors White candidates. At the same time, it overlooks knowledge and skills that we know are essential to protect clients: We don’t test client counseling, fact investigation, cultural competence, or negotiation. Nor do we test doctrinal knowledge in the subjects most likely to assist clients of color: immigration, juvenile law, employment law, fair housing, and other civil rights statutes. It’s time to acknowledge and rework the racist impact of our licensing system. For more, please click here.

Negotiating Trauma and Teaching Law

By: Mallika Kaur, UC Berkeley School of Law and Executive Director, Sikh Family Center

As a human rights advocate focused on gendered violence work, about seven years ago I began employing the term “negotiating trauma” (while developing a class of the same name for UC Berkeley School of Law) in order to encourage fellow lawyers to consider, recognize and better prioritize the many emotional interplays in our everyday work. 

This new article focuses on trauma & the classroom. I propose adopting “a combination of simple strategies… that better acknowledge trauma (whether or not the professor chooses to use that term, and whether or not the class is a small seminar or large lecture) is to everyone’s advantage in today’s law school.” Like with other negotiations, we could apply a zero-sum approach to the various players’ emotions involved in legal teaching or choose to instead engage the complexity to generate better, perhaps deeper, and eventually more valuable learning and lawyering. 

The Abstract:

HOW DO YOU NEGOTIATE TRAUMA AND EMOTIONS IN YOUR CLASSROOM? Posing this open-ended question to law professors not only begets more questions, but also often elicits a reflexive retort: law professors dare not present themselves as mental health experts and law schools have mental health resources for students having difficulties. The difficulty of this approach is that in 2021, most law students are no longer willing to accept that their legal education must suppress emotions, including trauma. For classrooms where professors may be less comfortable with emotional discussions, they may find themselves challenged and perhaps even feel obstructed from teaching their subject matter with the freedom and expertise it deserves. Are we simply dealing with an overly sensitive generation? Or are we being pushed to make overdue changes that will improve legal teaching, legal education, and eventually the profession? 

Citation Information

Kaur, Mallika. “Negotiating Trauma & Teaching Law.” Journal of Law and Social Policy 35. (2021): 113-119. https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/jlsp/vol35/iss1/6 

The Latest Data on Legislation & Regulation and Administrative Law Course Requirements at US Law Schools

With the aid of my smart and industrious research assistant Rob Galloway, I have completed the annual list of Legislation and Regulation (Leg Reg) and Administrative Law course requirements at ABA accredited law schools. The link to the list as a publicly viewable Google doc is below.

Two schools (Georgia State and Wisconsin) have added Leg Reg to their first-year curriculum, and the University of Chicago has added Legislation and Statutory Interpretation. Indiana-Indianapolis has made Administrative Law a required course. New to the list, though perhaps not new requirements: Both Inter-American and Pontifical Catholic (Puerto Rico) require Administrative Law as well. Oklahoma City Law School has added as a requirement that students take either Administrative Law or Legislation.

The list now identifies 55 schools that require their students to take a Leg Reg course or a course on legislation, statutory interpretation, or administrative law. Also of note on this year’s list: A more thorough review of the various schools’ curricula revealed several more that offer Leg Reg (or a course on legislation and/or statutory interpretation) or Administrative Law as a first-year elective. The list identifies 19 schools under this category.

I take responsibility for any errors. If your school is not represented accurately, get in touch with me at beb9@pitt.edu.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tbTcvxbaR11M15b2Mc9u5_UPrq4STcSClN9ntF5G1UE/edit?usp=sharing

From Burned-out to Flourishing

Janet Thompson Jackson*

I’m not always okay.

It’s the end of the semester and I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted.  My fuse is a bit shorter than normal and my cynicism is a bit longer.  I’m ready to distance myself from my work and many of my co-workers. 

Does that sound familiar to you?  We label it as burnout or exhaustion.  Burnout is defined as the reaction to chronic stress that often leads to exhaustion, dissatisfaction at work or school, and the difficulty or inability to function well in daily life.  You may not be surprised to know that law faculty are at high risk for burnout.

Certain characteristics put people at higher risk for burnout.  They include:

  • People who identify so strongly with their work that they lack boundaries between their personal and work life
  • Perfectionists and people-pleasers
  • Those who work in helping professions
  • People who have an unmanageable workload or have little control over their work environment
  • Individuals who experience unfair treatment
  • An environment where there is poor communication and support

Law faculty, and perhaps especially clinicians, may see themselves in more than one of these categories.  For BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) faculty members, some of these conditions may have existed long before the pandemic, but have become exacerbated over the past year.  And, while most faculty members have sought to support their students during the especially challenging times of the pandemic, BIPOC faculty often find themselves in the position of having to perform their academic obligations as usual while at the same time supporting BIPOC students and living with their own trauma.  Faculty of color also expend considerable emotional and physical energy responding, on the one hand, to concerned colleagues who want to dialogue about anti-racism and contribute to meaningful change, and on the other hand, to colleagues who insist that all lives matter, thereby discounting BIPOC experiences and grievances.  In addition, non-tenured faculty may feel pressure to remain silent or carefully manage their responses about racial injustice, and specifically about implicit bias among their own faculty, in order to advance in their institutions.

As we move from the end of the semester into summer, how do we also move from feeling burned-out and cynical to purposeful and flourishing?  A helpful place to begin is with awareness.

  •  Awareness of how you are really feeling right now, after you strip away external expectations and internal guilt about how you “should” be feeling.
  • Awareness of what you have accomplished during an extremely challenging time and how you have grown.
  • Awareness of what you could have done better and what you have learned.
  • Awareness of how you spend your time and whether those choices align with your core values and desires.
  • Awareness of how much of your time, if any, is dedicated to self-care.

Integrating self-care into our lives begins with making the daily choice to do so.  Here are just a few strategies to get you started:

  • Radical self-care: Be proactive and unapologetic about taking care of yourself.  Focus on the basics of getting enough sleep, eating and drinking nutritious foods, moving your body, and giving yourself downtime.
  • Connect with Community: Connect with your people.  Tell someone supportive how you are feeling.  It may help just to have someone listen to you.  If you think you may need professional help, don’t hesitate to get it.
  • Retreat from Community:  Sometimes we just need a break.  Without apology or undue explanation, give yourself permission to step back from your community obligations and expectations.
  • Set boundaries: Review your ‘to do’ list and decide what can be delegated or otherwise eliminated.  Learn to say ‘no’ to commitments you don’t need to take on.  Schedule times daily to disconnect from email and social media.
  • Laugh and have fun: Watch a funny move, read a good book, listen to music that makes you happy, laugh with a friend.
  • Practice instant stress-reduction techniques: At any time during the day take one minute (or less or more) to focus on your breath.  Feel your breath going in and out of your body.  Count your breaths if that helps you to keep your focus.  Allow your body to relax while focusing on your breath.  The more you do this during the day, the more your body builds an automatic relaxation response.

I’m not always okay.  But the tools above help me to breathe and re-center myself amidst the stresses of wrapping up the semester and planning for the next one.  It also helps me to remember you — my colleagues in this space — who inspire me, encourage me, and give me a sense of gratitude for being a part of this vital work that we share.   I’m wishing you a wonderful, self-replenishing summer.

For more information and ideas on how to support yourself and your students, take a look at Janet’s upcoming article, Wellness and Law: Reforming Legal Education to Support Student Wellness (forthcoming, 65 Howard Law Journal, 1 (Fall 2021)), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=624225

*Janet Thompson Jackson is a law professor, a leader in law student and lawyer wellness, a certified wellness coach and yoga/meditation instructor, a nonprofit consultant, and an inclusion & belonging collaborator.  Her driving philosophy is that preparing students to be successful in the legal profession means helping them to manage the stresses inherent in law school and practice.  Janet has been a member of the law faculty of Washburn University School of Law since 2004, where she directs the Small Business and Nonprofit Law Clinic, teaches Nonprofit Law, and is helping to lead the law school’s new initiative, Third Year Anywhere™.

Law Teaching Strategies for a New Era: Beyond the Physical Classroom

July 22, 2021

Register here and read more about the book here.

The abrupt move to online legal education in Spring 2020 accelerated the move to online legal education that has been slowing gathering steam in recent years. As more institutions consider the potential to expand their reach with online courses and programs, law professors must move past “pandemic teaching” and seriously consider how they can create and deliver quality legal education online. Law Teaching Strategies for a New Era: Beyond the Physical Classroom, the first comprehensive book on online legal education, explores techniques, tools, and strategies that can assist all types of law professors in that endeavor.

The conference will feature five panels that explore the future of the legal profession and offer practical tips on creating effective online courses:

·       Panel 1—The Future of Law Practice:  Moderated by noted legal blogger David Lat, this panel will feature practitioners and judges discussing the future of virtual law practice.

·       Panel 2—Becoming the Law School of the Future:  This panel will discuss how law schools can prepare for long-term online learning.

·       Panel 3—Designing the Law Courses of the Future: This panel will offer attendees practical tips for designing courses for online delivery.

·       Panel 4—The 1L & Doctrinal Curriculum in a New Era: This panel will offer tips from professors who successfully converted their 1L and large doctrinal classes to an online platform.

·       Panel 5—The Upper-level Curriculum in a New Era:  This panel will offer tips from professors who successfully converted their experiential classes to an online platform.

Please feel free to reach out to Tessa Dysart (tdysart@email.arizona.edu) or Tracy Norton (tnorton@tourolaw.edu) with any questions!

Round and Round We Go: The Stages of Rounds applied to a AALS Clinical 2021 Lightning Session

By Cori Alonso-YoderSherley Cruz, Vanessa F. Hernandez

Stage 1: Description of the Issue

“In almost every small group of clinicians at clinical conferences, someone raises the subject of ‘improving rounds.’”  – Elliott Milstein & Sue Bryant, Rounds: A “Signature Pedagogy” for Clinical Education?   

While this year’s virtual AALS Clinical Conference differed from prior years, clinicians’ desire to maximize rounds remains a constant. These facilitated classroom discussions are what Professors Elliot Milstein and Sue Bryant called a “signature pedagogy” for clinical legal education. Indeed, rounds figure as a meta exercise of clinical education. By giving up total control, rounds may feel challenging or unpredictable. Yet, year after year, rounds remain a principal teaching tool. Because, as observed by Milstein and Bryant, “when the conversations go well, they are precious sources of learning.” 

In 2019, a group of us compared notes to discuss their use of rounds.[1] We learned that we had similar approaches, but that there was also great flexibility in our practices of rounds. At the Rounds on Rounds Session, we hoped that by sharing our experiences we could learn from one another while also amplifying different models of rounds. To our delight, 136 conference participants also wanted to learn new ways of teaching rounds.

Stages 2 & 3:  Questions to Clarify and Problems Identified

Our initial goals for the AALS lightning session were to 1) introduce the concept of rounds; and 2) to share different approaches to rounds. To seek feedback from our participants, we used a Google form survey to learn more about our audience’s familiarity with rounds (especially the “ traditional Milstein/Bryant five stages”), while also soliciting ideas on different approaches. In particular, we sought to introduce the concept of rounds for student learning and as a tool for clinicians to use in their own development as supervisors and educators. 

From our survey, we learned that over 90% of our 69 respondents currently used rounds. Of these, the vast majority (more than 85%) reported using rounds in discussion with students about client fieldwork. Only about 30% of respondents mentioned using rounds with colleagues to discuss supervision of students. Almost 10% of respondents, 7.2%, responded that they didn’t use rounds or were unsure if they used rounds.

Figure 1. Responses about rounds modes used by participants.

The survey also asked respondents to identify their priorities for learning within the session. Most of the respondents, 63.8%, indicated that they were most interested in learning about maximizing their use of rounds to discuss lawyering skills.

Figure 2. Responses about priorities for learning in the lightning session.

These responses helped us focus our discussion for the remaining time and to clarify our goals for the session.

Stage 4: Goals Clarified

Based on the responses from students, we returned to our dual goals of 1) introducing rounds as a teaching tool; and 2) sharing practices for rounds.

Stage 5: Lawyering Strategies Exchanged/Proposed Solutions

To set the stage for the nearly 10% of respondents not presently using rounds, we presented some of the foundational concepts related to use of rounds.

Figure 3. A slide with the “Milstein/Bryant” rounds structure from the lightning session.

Participants took part in a How Do You Use Rounds Google Doc “quick write” to share their perspectives on what is working in rounds and where they experienced challenges. Having 150 participants trying to access a Google Document at once “crashed” the shared doc. Despite the technical difficulties, we were able to spark a rich discussion from the quick write. We took a fresh look at the first few stages from a cultural, racial, gender, and other differences perspective, which provided an opportunity for conversations about bias, stereotypes, and their impact on third parties.[2]  

Stage 6: Lessons Learned

Perhaps it is poetic justice that a 30-minute lightning discussion on rounds with nearly 150 participants would feel rushed and incomplete.

Many clinicians in the quick write exercise expressed their feelings of struggling to find time for rounds, or properly developing the conversation. We, the presenters, faced similar struggles in getting out all that we hoped to share with our session, but were encouraged by the enthusiastic responses from our colleagues.

Among the helpful conversations that developed with participants after the formal conclusion of the Zoom session, we identified the need to develop materials to foster student led discussion and participation. One participant asked for readings to provide to students in advance of rounds. Another participant wanted to learn more about one of our practices in requesting students prepare a pre-rounds memo.

This session confirmed that challenges and opportunities with structuring rounds will likely remain a topic to which we continue to circle back. We look forward to the next “go round” on this topic.


[1] This group included Cori Alonso-Yoder,  Sherley Cruz, Vanessa F. Hernandez, Nadiyah Humber, and  Katie Ladewski Jarosz.

[2] This innovation was credited to Professor Alexander Scherr at the University of Georgia. The exercise was particularly resonant as an intervention given the conference’s larger theme of “Recognizing Our Past and Building for Our Future.”

Foundations for Teaching: A Data-Driven Model to Help Legal Educators Build Learning Outcomes into Their Instruction

Zack DeMeola
Director of Legal Education and the Legal Profession, IAALS

Logan Cornett
Director of Research, IAALS

In 2011, IAALS—the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver—launched Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL), a unique, national initiative to change the way law schools educate students. ETL provided a platform to encourage law schools to showcase innovative teaching to produce more practice-ready lawyers who can better meet the needs of an evolving profession. One of the primary concerns IAALS hoped to address was the perceived skills gap between the abilities new lawyers have when they graduate law school and the abilities they need for practice. Of course, this gap has serious implications for educators and employers, but it has even greater implications for the profession. Not only do under-prepared lawyers undermine public trust in our legal system, but they also struggle longer and harder than they should as they try to gain footing in the legal profession. The ETL initiative has since ended, but from that work emerged Foundations for Practice, a first-of-its-kind effort to develop an evidence-based understanding of the competencies, skills, and characteristics new lawyers need to develop to be ready for practice and understand how law schools and employers can best instill these qualities in future lawyers.

Through a national survey, to which more than 24,000 lawyers from all 50 states representing a diverse array of practice settings and specialties, IAALS identified 76 characteristics, professional competencies, and legal skills that are necessary immediately out of law school—these are the 76 foundations a new lawyer needs to be successful. But uncovering this information was just the first step. We understood that the comprehensive data that came from Foundations would have more impact if we could better organize and harness it in a practical way. The goal is to offer educators and employers a framework to create more objective, transparent, and accountable practices for assessing competencies in students and new lawyers.

Learning outcomes, the bedrock of standards-based instruction, provided an obvious framework for this next phase. Learning outcomes are academic standards and methodologies used in instruction, assessment, grading, and reporting to ensure students learn, practice, and master the requisite skills and content. Learning outcomes are more than the recitation of specific skills and abilities—they operate through applying research- and evidence-based instructional practices, including rigorous assessment, to ensure student needs are being met, and are thus also used as defendable criteria for program, course and curriculum content value and effectiveness. The process emphasizes transparency, accountability, flexibility, and clarity. Thus, learning outcomes better assist educators to:

  • Structure and identify key concepts for coursework;
  • Assess student performance and whether students understand and can apply those concepts;
  • Map the relative strengths and places for improvement in programs and curriculum;
  • Set shared expectations between students and educators;
  • Collect the information needed to continually improve instruction; and
  • Collect the information needed to show evidence of effective learning for accreditors.

Learning outcomes are not a fringe concept, but they are new to legal education. Although learning outcomes are a primary feature of education in just about every other context—from kindergarten to graduate school (medical schools had an early form of learning outcomes in the 1930s, which have been modernized over time) it wasn’t until 2016 that the American Bar Association (ABA) required law schools to “establish and measure other important outcomes for those who enroll” in legal education program” by developing learning outcome measures and assessment methodologies to “improve their legal education programs and better serve the needs of students during their legal education and in their professional careers.”

While this new accreditation standard was an important development for legal education, the ABA provided precious little guidance on how learning outcomes should be implemented or evaluated. Understandably, many law schools and law school faculty, when faced with the prospect of a wholly new way to frame instruction and curriculum, have been slow to develop effective learning outcomes. In our work on this project, we learned that law school faculty, staff, and administrators are all grappling with how to structure, design, and incorporate learning outcomes and assessments into their educational programs. But we also learned that they are genuinely motivated to better prepare students for their careers after law school. In our view, a Foundations-based approach using a data-driven process to design learning outcomes and implement corresponding assessments is the best way to accomplish that goal.

The need for guidance and for a relevant, empirically validated, and effective outcomes-based framework for education spurred IAALS to design Foundations-based model learning outcomes. The five broad learning outcomes categories—Communicator, Practitioner, Professional, Problem Solver, and Self Starter—organize the 76 foundations entry-level lawyers need to succeed in the practice of law and make it easier for educators to hone their teaching methods around them. 

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 http://www.abarequireddisclosures.org/Disclosure509.aspx

            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 https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3129111.

[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

http://www.courts.state.ny.us/ctapps/news/nottobar/nottobar121615.pdf; 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 http://ww2.nycourts.gov/sites/default/files/document/files/2018-05/Experiential-Learning-Admiss2Bar-Report122015.pdf.

[4] Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education, 2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education (2020), available at https://www.csale.org/#results.

[5] Allison Korn & Laila L. Hlass, Assessing the Experiential (R)Evolution, 65 Villanova L. Rev. 713, 731-33 (2020), available at https://digitalcommons.law.villanova.edu/vlr/vol65/iss4/1/.

[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. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2318042.

[8] Deborah Jones Merritt & Logan Cornett, Building a Better Bar 75-76 (2020), available at  https://iaals.du.edu/sites/default/files/documents/publications/building_a_better_bar.pdf; 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 https://scholars.law.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2220&context=facpub.


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! (www.yesworld.org).

  • 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.” 

Sources

Susan L. Brooks, Mindful Engagement and Relational Lawyering, 48 Southwestern L. Rev.267 (2019) (available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3397326).

Susan L. Brooks, Fostering Wholehearted Lawyers: Practical Guidance for Supporting Law Students’ Professional Identity Formation, 14 St. Thomas L. Rev. 412 (2018). (available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3169991.)

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: https://helpingout.net/2018/12/02/invitation-to-brave-space-poem-by-micky-scottbey-jones/.

Shawn Ginwright, The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered engagement (2018 ) (available at: https://ginwright.medium.com/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed-care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69c).

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: https://www.yesworld.org/facilitation-manual/)

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