Curricular Planning and Educational Outcomes

As I said in my last post, the Best Practices book suggests that a law school’s curriculum should “achieve congruence in its program of instruction”. Congruence requires that law schools harmonize educational programs with mission; curriculum with educational outcomes, and instructional objectives with curriculum (p.93). My last post focused on mission, this one will focus a bit on educational outcomes. At first blush, this can seem a bit intimidating, after all, the range of skills that a lawyer should have can be daunting. However, we do have some guidance in the MacCrate report published by the American Bar Association in 1992, the plethora of literature that as written before that report came out (and the many pieces that have been written since ) our own experiences, and our knowledge about the communities our graduates will serve.

In a faculty session at UNM led by Peter Joy last fall, the faculty divided into small groups to identify what we thought were necessary skills. We had no trouble coming up with a list of skills that looked somewhat like those articulated in the MacCrate report (no surprise given that Mike Norwood and Peter Winograd from our faculty were very involved in the MacCrate Report). However, we did come up with some differences in emphasis and some aspects unique to our region as well as some substantive knowledge emphasis. For example, Indian Law is on the bar in New Mexico. That choice by the bar exam reflects the legal landscape of our region. Of course, the law school should respond to the legal landscape. So the next step is to build on what we think we should prepare our graduates to do to create our statement of desired educational outcomes for our students. Once we have that, we need to take a very hard look at the curriculum to determine whether it sets out paths for students to achieve those educational outcomes.

Of course, years ago, my prescient predecessors realized that practice skills were crucial since many of our graduates would practice locally and would need to be prepared to represent clients relatively quickly and with some level of skill. Thus, UNM made participation in clinic a graduation requirement. The clinic focuses on developing skills, values and professional identity. That reality has not changed, indeed time has shown that the need for practice skills is not unique to UNM graduates. Of course, clinic is not the only way a law student can develop skills, values and professional identity. And, it is exciting to see all the curricular approaches law schools are taking to better prepare their graduates. And, it is interesting to see how students respond.

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