Incorporating Clinical Experiences in Classes

I’ve been thinking about ways of incorporating clinical experiences in doctrinal classes. The importance of this practice has not only been demonstrated by our Best Practices authors and the Carnegie Foundation, but especially by our own observations of our students as they enter clinical courses. To my mind it’s now obvious that students sitting in doctrinal classrooms for 1-2 years before getting involved in a clinical setting is not just unproductive, but counter-productive to their learning how to “be” lawyers. The way it is now, those who do enroll in clinics have little context for clients’ real legal problems, scant sense of what it means to gather the facts, and little notion as to how those facts fit with in the relevant law. Given this, I’ve recently suggested/mentioned to faculty at my school that they consider working on a “real” case in their doctrinal classes.  The response was underwhelming. There was concern about additional work.

Has anyone out there been successful in encouraging non-clinical faculty to work with a group of students on direct case representation?  If so, can you offer some suggestions as to how it might be made to work, especially how it might be accepted as a productive and enjoyable way to teach?
formative assessment.

4 Responses

  1. Great post! I think there are two real issues of concern regarding solely doctrinal teaching faculty. And personally, I am sympathetic to them. First, the perception that it is going to take A LOT of time to rework lecture notes etc. Second, the perception that you’d have to throw out the security of a course book that you are familiar with and enjoy.

    I think we need to link facutl. in specific subject matters with others who have done it and can share materials – assessment, good books, problems, cases etc. For example, here at albany Dean Connie Mayer uses little firms and cases in Civil procedure. Professor Ray Brescia uses STORMING THE COURT to teach Civil Procedure. Now they come out of clinical traditions so that’s not surprising. My colleague Tim Lytton in TOrts has never taught clinic but was a “clinic head” while in law school at Yale. He uses lots of real cases and assesses periodically in his Torts classes.

    At The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning Conference, I attended a great presentation on Teaching Evidence in a much more interactive, context based way and many folks there suggested a book on Evidence to use (you can link to the ILTL site and look for the Evidence workshop or contact me directly for more info).

    Who else is out there doing exactly what Irene suggests at your schools? I’d love to hear.

  2. I too am looking for examples, for an AALS panel I’m on in January. Specifically in the context of raising public-interest hands-on experiences into a doctrinal curse. I agree with Mary’s view of the resistance to change, and her proposed solution — which is to offer up a menu of options for doing it, including sample materials and replicable examples. And there is a spectrum from least amount of effort to delaminating those notes and more integrating clinic-style methods.

    Please post any examples — including and perhaps especially experiential learning opportunities that don’t involve actual representation but perhaps research requested by a nonprofit or help to a local government on a policy problem, or other transactional or strategic legal and reform-style advice — and feel free to email me directly at so I can include your hybrid example to help illustrate what’s doable.

  3. Thanks for raising this issue. The eventual goal clinicians and all best practices folk share is to transform the traditional curriculum to make it more experience based. But how to achieve that lofty goal ? Ah, that is the question. One suggestion is to partner with existing agencies who serve the underserved. At Golden Gate we have expanded our externship clinics by collaborating with agencies that represent death row prisoners, the homeless, indigent family law clients, and youth with disabilities, among others. We plan to offer narratives from our students’ clinic experiences to our colleagues teaching substantive law classes–substituting for the text-book hypotheticals. Students in our Honors Lawyering Program, undergo an intensive post-first year academic summer culminating with the representation of “live” clients from our partner agencies, The Tenderloin Housing Clinic. and the Homeless Advocacy Project. They then spend the fall semeser in full-time apprenticeships.
    In response to Karen’s request for ideas that don’t involve actual representation, again partnering with existing agencies can be useful. Students in Wrongful Convictions: Causes and Remedies wrote research papers and prepared testimony for the (now defunct) Ca. Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, and the Innocence Project. Students in our Katrina seminar and Poverty Law class have similar reality based final projects in lieu of an exam. I too would be interested in hearing other ideas and can be reached at

  4. Susan, you make a great point about partnering with outisde agencies. Sounds like you are doing some interesting and creating teaching at Golden Gate if you have any written mnaterials describing please send to so we can post it to a website which will accompany this Blog which we are launching later this week.

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