Carnegie Foundation and Law Schools Join to Promote “Legal Education Project”

          The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Stanford Law School have recently joined together to sponsor “The Legal Education Study Project” as a follow-up to the Carnegie Report, Educating Lawyers.  The Study Project has started with ten law schools that have made curriculum change a major focus in recent years, and the Study Project’s goals are to promote curriculum changes in law schools.  A major focus is for law schools to do a better of job of addressing issues of professional identity lawyering skills, and to consider how to integrate emphases on professional identity, legal analysis, and lawyering skills throughout the three years of law school.

            The Study Project held its first meeting of the ten law schools (CUNY, Dayton, Georgetown, Harvard, Indiana-Bloomington, New Mexico, NYU, Stanford, Southwestern, and Vanderbilt) December 7 & 8 at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation on the Stanford campus.  Prior to the meeting, all of the participating schools circulated descriptions of the curricular changes underway.  Those changes primarily focused on modifications to the first year curriculum, changes to the upper division, and a more coordinated integration of professional identity, practical skills, and substantive content/legal analysis (Carnegie’s study three apprenticeships: legal analysis, practical skills, and professional identity).  In addition, some of the law schools highlighted special challenges or opportunities, such as pre-programs to help diverse students transition successfully to law school or accelerated programs to help law students graduate more quickly with less debt.

Each participating law school sent its dean (in the case of NYU its vice dean) and two other faculty members involved in curricular development.  In addition to the representatives of the ten law schools, representatives of the Carnegie Foundation and a handful of faculty from other law schools participated in the two day meeting.  During the meeting, participants engaged in a number of interactive sessions imagining ways to achieve more of an emphasis on the development of professional identity and professional skills in law school so that law students will be better equipped for practice.  Throughout the meeting, the organizers and several participants referenced Best Practices as a positive resource for assisting law schools engaged in curricular change.

The Study Project is scheduled to last three years.  Throughout the first meeting, one of the challenges discussed was how to keep the size of the group manageable while still recognizing that many more law schools than those represented by this group are engaging in curricular changes.  Additionally, participants discussed the need to collect more information concerning changes that are afoot in other law schools, a mechanism for sharing this information, and the eventual development of exemplars of successful curricular developments and resources for law schools engaged in curriculum improvement.

The organizers of the Study Project have not charted the next steps yet, but the potential of the Study Project is significant.  While some of the ten schools mentioned are known for innovative curriculum development, most are not.  The fact that such a diverse group of law schools are all reconsidering how to free themselves from the chains of the casebook method is refreshing.  There was a genuine concern for better preparing law students for the practice of law.  On the other hand, many of those participating mentioned the need for funding to engage in curriculum change, and others discussed how change could be viewed as detracting from the emphasis on scholarship.  Still, these ten law schools and a small, but growing, number of other law schools are addressing some of the issues Best Practices and Educating Lawyers raised.  As some of the participants expressed in one way or another, change is in the air and smart law school deans and faculties want to be seen as leaders and not followers.  Innovation and improving legal education may involve a reallocation of some resources, but the cost of engaging in the same old approach soundly critiqued by Best Practices and Educating Lawyers may be even greater.

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