Teaching Materials and Help Available for Those Who Want to Try Carnegie/Best Practices Methods

Many law professors have developed teaching materials and designed courses that use some or all of the recommendations of the Carnegie Report Educating Lawyers and of the Best Practices for Legal Education (Best Practices) report.    Those who have worked to bring the powerful ideas of these reports into practice may have the false impression that everyone in the legal academy knows about the availability of these materials and resources.  In addition, the 25 law schools that have partnered in the initiative of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, called “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers,” http://educatingtomorrowslawyers.du.edu/  (ETL) may also assume that other law schools are aware of the degree to which these 25 schools have committed to the Carnegie/Best Practices method.   For instance, every one of these schools has revised their strategic plans and curricula to intentionally incorporate the Carnegie and Best Practices recommendations.  But do other law schools know about the progress made in developing teaching materials and in the collaboration fostered by ETL?

Recent blog posts and conversations with law professors have led me to realize that many schools and/or professors have not had the opportunity to appreciate these developments.  Plenty know about Carnegie’s recommendations, but too few know of the steps taken, since the report, to implement it.   Major legal publishers have developed materials to allow professors to teach both skills and value formation in doctrinal courses.  Lexis/Nexis took the approach of providing supplements, in its “Skills and Values” series, which can be used with a traditional casebook.   The co-directors of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, Professor Michael Hunter Schwartz and Professor Gerald Hess, developed with Carolina Academic Press a series of casebooks in the “Context and Practice Series” designed to teach in the method recommended by Carnegie    Each of the books includes material to allow for the traditional method of teaching—teaching analytical skills through question and answer, etc.  The casebooks are novel in their integration of a variety of lawyering tasks to reinforce legal concepts.   The task may range from drafting a sophisticated contract to preparing a discovery plan to allow a party to prepare for summary judgment and for trial.    With the leadership of Professors Schwartz and Hess, and the reality that the authors in the series are all those who have written and spoken widely on educational methods, these books provide some of the best ideas for teaching doctrinal subjects in a way that will enhance the classes.   Finally, the Carolina Academic Press series is also unique because every book chapter “professional identity questions” that encourage students to reflect on value questions that arise in specific practice scenarios.  In addition to the Lexis/Nexis and Carolina Academic Press series, West Publishing is reportedly going to be releasing a series that incorporates the Carnegie methods.

Some, perhaps many, professors are wary of moving to a Carnegie method.  Here are some likely questions behind the hesitation:  Won’t everything Carnegie suggests cut into my course coverage?   I already have a method developed for teaching and the Carnegie sounds as if it will require more work?   Are the skills that Carnegie suggests the kind of tasks that would make my teaching more of a “trade” type of class than legal analysis?  Would I be indoctrinating students into my own values by seeking to have them reflect on these professional identity questions?

These kinds of questions are worth discussing. The problem is that those who have the questions often have not spoken with their colleagues who are using the skills and value formation method, and vice versa.   As we move forward, professors who have questions ought to at least inform their decisions by talking to those who have taught using either of the approaches.  And those who have developed experience can be more proactive about sharing it.  As noted, 25 law schools have faculty that are already teaching through one or both methods.  For example, see the course portfolios on the Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers site, http://educatingtomorrowslawyers.du.edu/course-portfolios/, with explanations courses that include one or both of the skills and values approach.    Talking with one of these professors would be a good start for someone who wants to have more information with which to consider the above questions.  Those who ask may be surprised to find that some preconceptions may be inaccurate.   For instance, most professors employing skills as part of their courses are not using “easy” tasks.  Instead, the exercises require sophisticated skills that reinforce students’ grasp of how a legal concept applies to practice, its strategic importance, etc.   I was encouraged, and as a result, encourage others, to start with modest changes in a course during one semester, rather than revamp my course completely.  If the professor finds that these methods make one’s class a better learning experience for the students, and more enjoyable for the professor, he or she can choose as I did to try more changes in a later semester.  Or not.  The point is that a professor, if she has questions, ought to at least make an informed decision by talking with those who have experimented with implementing the recommendations.

3 Responses

  1. This is a thoughtful analysis of ways to transform legal education in the classroom. I think it is important to consider that students and their future clients need a meaningful education that helps them develop the knowledge, skills and values they will require to become successful practitioners of law. Our role as educators requires that we become more effective at helping them develop. Thanks for this post!

  2. Thank you for your continued support of Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers–and for the course portfolio on state civil procedure you so generously shared. As you said in a recent email, it takes one at a time!

  3. […] Madison, an Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Fellow, recently discussed teaching materials and help available for those who want to try Carnegie methods in a post on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog. He noted that “plenty know about […]

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