BEST PRACTICES AND LAND USE LAW: a “natural” merger?

A new article just posted to SSRN examines Best Practices in the field of land use law.  The article, “Practically Grounded: Convergence of Land Use Pedagogy and Best Practices” is forthcoming in the Journal of Legal Education. (One can downloand at: 

The authors (my colleague Dean Patricia Salkin from Albany Law School and Professor John Nolon from Pace Law School) are among the most prolific land use law scholars in the nation.  I am delighted that their current scholarship venture will add to the growing body of literature on Best Practices as it offers unique perspectives and ideas that we can all learn from.  Even though I have no experience in, nor have ever taught,  land use law,  I found the article contained lots of little gems and good ideas for those of us who teach in other subject areas or who are collaborating with colleagues on Best Practices initiatives.  

Salkin and Nolon’s  article begins with an examination of the changing dynamics in the field of land use and sustainable community development law, explaining how this provides a unique opportunity to rethink the way in which faculty prepare law students to practice law in this area. The authors explain how this paradigm shift converges with the growing momentum of the Best Practices movement, and observes that a “perfect storm” is present and a unique opportunity exists through the application of many “Best Practices” concepts for land use law faculty to lead the academy in reinventing curriculum and teaching strategies to better prepare students for the practice of law.

The article also reviews the history of the Best Practices movement, and makes the case as to why land use should be the “poster child” for best practices. This is followed by a discussion of an empirical survey conducted by the authors in 2008 of land use law professors that examined, among other things, the opportunities to apply Best Practices to the subject of land use law. The article offers innovative examples of teaching methods that can be effectively utilized within the confines of the traditional classroom, using the land use law course as a model, as well as an example of how the land use law course can be used across the curriculum as a Best Practices capstone experience.

 Again using the content of the land use course, the article concludes with the observation that the traditional approach to teaching can be converted into exciting opportunities that engage student learners, stretch the limits of student creativity, instill a sense of professionalism, and, consistent with the findings and recommendations of the Best Practices Report, prepare students to be more effective attorneys.

 The authors welcome and invite discussion of their article here among those of us interested in exploring Best Practices.

One Response

  1. Earlier today I expressed my thanks to the authors for their valuable work in surveying the field of land use professors. As someone on the newer end of the teaching spectrum, I appreciate that there is a network of land use professionals that can share their ideas with one another. And how true that land use is a capstone area ripe for innovative pedagogy.

    The University of Montana School of Law joins many other schools in exploring ways to implement the ideas in Best Practices. Here is one example from the Land Use Clinic, which I direct, and the narrative comes from a summary of a poster presentation I will make at the upcoming AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education (which is dedicated to Carnegie and Best Practices):

    Introduction: In the Spring of 2009 the Land Use Clinic at the University of Montana School of Law began a workshop series in which clinic students train governing bodies on the legal aspects of issuing land use decisions under local laws. Inspired by the “experiential learning” and “contextual practice” approaches described in the Carnegie Report and Best Practices, the workshop series serves as a direct bridge from classroom to practice by placing the student in the role of both an expert communicator and a professional servant in the community. This workshop model — which supplements more “traditional” clinic work of representing clients in specific land use matters — has quickly grown to be a favorite part of both the students’ and the clients’ clinical experience and produces remarkable student learning in a relatively short time frame.

    Summary of Workshop Model: In various Montana communities, the clinic students present to planners, scientists, elected officials, and interested citizens, cultivating the skills of gathering legal authority and translating the law to laypersons. Then, the students place the audience in working groups to practice decision making in the context of a hypothetical land use fact pattern that raises legal and factual questions. (The students develop this fact pattern based on real land use cases they have observed in the community, thus synthesizing law and practice). Students move among the groups observing and providing feedback to participants. Because group discussions invariably involve conflicting political perspectives, the students are immersed in on-the-ground mediation and diplomacy skills. Finally, students lead a discussion during which audience members clarify questions and solidify their understanding of the law. This discussion portion helps students gain confidence in listening and thinking on their feet. The students leave the workshop with actual professional experience and established relationships with community leaders in the land use arena. The Clinic Director observes and supports the students during the workshop and provides immediate feedback to each student after the workshop concludes.

    The workshop model directly supports ideas within the Carnegie Report and Best Practices. In particular, it: (1) furthers the goal of “achieving educational objectives effectively and efficiently,” Best Practices, p. 168; (2) helps students adjust to their professional roles and develop professional skills, Best Practices, p. 170; and (3) engages students in the “formation of a professional identity,” Carnegie Report, p. 158.

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