Promoting Diversity

Paul Holland and I were the luncheon speakers on Leading Change in Legal Education: The Carnegie Study, Educating Lawyers and the book by Roy Stuckey, Best Practices in Legal Education at the Seattle University / SALT Deanship workshop, “ Promoting Diversity in Deanships”, September 28, 2007. (EXCELLENT conference, by the way) Since the conference was focused on increasing the number of deans of color in the legal academy, I tried to answer the question of why a dean, and particularly, a dean of color, should care about the ideas in both book as an issue relevant to minority law students. Here are some thoughts.

Both books encourage law schools to think about their legal education programs as a means to prepare lawyers for the practice of law. This may seem like an obvious point, but as both books note, many law schools have focused primarily on the cognitive study of the law and less on the professional identity and skills aspects of the practice of law. After exhaustive research and study both books suggest that law schools should re-examine their programs to become more effective in preparing lawyers. Doing so will enhance the quality of legal education.

Making legal education better will increase the competence of all of our students and is particularly effective for training law students of color. Indeed, many of the ideas in both books are quite consistent with what teachers and administrators involved in academic support programs have been saying for decades. Academic support professionals have pushed for formative feedback so that students can focus on their weaknesses. They have pushed for collaborative and experiential learning experience as more effective learning techniques, particularly for different learning styles. Collaboration and experience are critical in preparing one for the practice. Academic support and education professionals have pushed for clarity in the articulation of teaching objectives and have advocated for academic experiences that can help students attain appropriate competencies. In addition, evaluating student outcomes, that is, whether students achieve the professor’s teaching objectives that are tailored to the practice of law, will provide more accurate information about our graduates than the sorting that is performed by traditional law school exams today. Since the Law School Admission Test measures performance of an analytical skill that is further honed in first year courses, broadening the performance criteria evaluated in our legal education programs will also benefit those with potentially excellent practice skills, but lower LSAT scores.

Thus, I predict that implementing many of the ideas Best Practices in Legal Education and Educating Lawyers in law school programs will address many of the existing racial and ethnic disparities in law school education. In addition, I urge law schools to consider the effect of the redesign of their programs on law students of color.

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