Examples of curricular reform

At this afternoon’s AALS plenary session on “Rethinking Legal Education For the 21st Century”, wonderful discussion occurred on legal education reform in a packed room of avid listeners.  Two of the  Carnegie Foundation Report’s authors, Judith Wegner and Bill Sullivan,  discussed the findings of the report.  Professor Martha Minow described  curricular reform and process at Harvard. New Mexico Dean Sue-Ellen Scarnechia  discussed the need for experiential and non-experiential teachers to build respect and collaboration capital and to break down biased perceptions of each other.  Panelist Vicki Jackson of Georgetown reported on  Georgetown’s first year course “FIRST WEEK. ”   (Scheduled for the first week of the second semester, FIRST WEEK  offers a brief and intensive integrated simulated experience in which students work with problem based materials in a global lawyering context based on legal concepts such as contracts or torts which were taught in the previous semester).

Ed Rubin, Dean of Vanderbilt and moderator of the panel described the reforms the Vanderbilt faculty and administration have undertaken.  As Chair of the AALS Committee on the Curriculum, Rubin  encouraged audience members to post their curriculum reform efforts on a new AALS site dedicated to documenting curriculur reform ideas – http://www.aals.org/services_curriculum_committee.php.

There were more questions than the panelists had time to hear.  This Blog would be a good place to continute the discussion from this afternoon……. Reactions?

One Response

  1. One kind of curricular reform involves breaking out off the current intellectual structure, that emphasizes the common law and organizes the first year (when our students ostensibly learn what to expect from their new profession) around the common law and the litigation model. CALI’s E-Langdell project, by creating bits and pieces of teaching materials we can put together as we please, offers one possible way past the current tyranny of casebook organization — but there will still be a first year on the shape of which colleagues will want to agree.

    Another, not precisely reform, involves starting students off with a course intended to give them the tools to build their own understanding of the profession they are joining, including an appreciation for what it might mean to them to be taught to “think like a lawyer.” One of the good characteristics of the three books of 2007 — not just the Carnegie study and Best Practices but also Beth Mertz’s book — was self-conscious attention to just this issue. So imagine a course right at the start that does not have doctrine at its core, but rather an introduction to these kinds of understandings — as much about statutes as about cases; about the history of the developing American legal system; about the civil law as well as the common law.

    Columbia, where I teach, has long had such a course, three intensive weeks before anything else happens. In its consideration for students and the support they warrant in acquiring a new culture it has long seemed to me an obvious thing to do. I have a set of materials to this end, so you might think this special pleading; but so does my colleague Jane Ginsburg, and so do a few others. The point here is that in general we do not give explicit attention at the outset to what is involved in professional formation and its acquisition; we just head straight into the common law subjects and civil procedure, leaving it to our students to figure that out for themselves.

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