Evidence Based Experiential Learning?

Over on the Legal Whiteboard, Bill Henderson has an interesting post noting that despite the current call for more experiential education, we lack evidence to answer two key questions:

“(1) Among experiential teaching methods, which ones are the most effective at accelerating professional development? And (2) among these options, how much does each cost to operate? Quality and cost must be assessed simultaneously.”

Henderson is the principal researcher on Northeastern Law’s Outcomes Assessment Project (OAP) that is attempting to answer the question “Does Northeastern’s legal education model accelerate the development of law graduates who are ready to practice and to serve clients?” As Henderson notes, selection effectsmake these challenging questions to answer given Northeastern’s distinctive characteristics, including a progressive, public interest tradition, and a student body with high numbers of women and LGBT students decades before the rest of legal education.

If the OAP project shows that Northeastern’s legal education model does accelerate the development of its graduates, here’s an interesting follow-up question: Will that result be due to the co-op model specifically, or simply to the greater integration of exposure to practice into their students’ education than is typical. In other words, would a different version of a “marble cake” curriculum model have the same benefits?

Congratulations UNM and Editors of the proposed new Best Practices Book!

This weekend, the University of New Mexico hosted a workshop BEST PRACTICES IN LEGAL EDUCATION: The Walls Are Coming Down” in which draft chapters of a new “Best Practices” book were reviewed and discussed.  The proposal to create a second book focused on best practices in legal education is the brainchild of Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, ably assisted by Professors Deborah Maranville, , Carolyn Kaas and Lisa Bliss. The symposium workshop brought together law professors from throughout the country interested in how legal education and the world of law schools has changed since the publication of the 2007 book Best Practices in Legal Education. Facilitated by Professors Beryl Blaustone and Alex Scherr, the conference explored how many law professors fluidly move from former silos of clinical, legal writing, lawyering, librarian, doctrinal, theory, or skills concentrations to pioneer a new kind of curriculum, better prepare students for the profession, explore the limits and usefulness of technology, and deepen the understanding and learning of law students through self-improving assessment processes.

Fully cognizant of the pressures on legal educators, the fact that not all in legal education welcome the need to change, and the moral imperative to address the concerns of debt-ridden unemployed law students, the authors, editors, advisory board members and readers reviewed challenges, cross-cutting themes and areas of promise. They engaged in innovative thinking about how to move legal education forward for the good of the profession, society and the students who desire to be lawyers of tomorrow. The keynote speaker for the Friday night dinner and author of the first book, Professor Roy Stuckey, directed the participants’ attention to what legal education should look like in 2027. At the same time, he reminded us that those seeking to improve legal education today stand on the shoulders of folks such as the honorable Rosalie Wahl and former ABA president Bob MacCrate who paved the way for the changes we have seen in the last 40 years. He recalled their joint mission to prepare “agents for justice in our communities.”

Every law graduate needs to understand fully that civic professional role of the lawyer. And every admittee to the bar has a sworn duty to improve our system of and access to justice. Returning to those principles can help prioritize our cost-cutting and can position us to move forward in the best interests of our students, our institutions and the society our profession is pledged to serve.

The Language of Experiential Learning

Here’s the note on terminology promised in Monday’s post.

For CLEA’s in-progress Building on Best Practices:  The Walls Are Coming Down book project my co-editor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Iare considering whether to include a section on terminology.   At least one effort to provide some consistency in usage is currently percolating, initiated by the Alliance for Experiential Education coordinated by Northeastern Law School.  An Alliance committee led by Elon’s Cindy Adcock is discussing initial draft recommendations on terminology in the hope of encouraging consistent usage.  Convincing schools to adopt any such recommendations could, of course, be a monumental task.  If accomplished, however, it would go a long way towards helping prospective students compare curricular opportunities.  And it could help prospective employers evaluate law graduates’ legal education.

My thoughts on what’s behind these initiatives and on the terminology conundrum:

The current downturn in law school enrollments, still bleak job prospects and changes in the structure of the legal profession has been accompanied by an explosion of interest in experiential learning, as law schools respond to the call to graduate practice ready professionals and seek to justify the three-year law school.  Law schools are experimenting with a wide range of experiential learning structures both for offerings involving real lawyering  — shameless self promotion moment: see my co-authored article Re-vision Quest:  A Law School Guide  to Designing Experiential Courses Involving Real Lawyering — and simulation based efforts.   Labels used for such efforts have proliferated and consistency of usage seems nowhere to be found.

Among the labels:

Clinic:  Perhaps the term with the longest pedigree and most consistency, but no shortage of unresolved issues,

  • Must a clinic involve an individual client?
  • If an effort focuses on tasks like lobbying or community education  that don’t require a J.D. and bar admission, should it qualify as a clinic?

For instance, should Street Law,  a community education effort, qualify as a clinic?  Schools that say “yes” include my own University of Washington, Georgetown,  where Street Law originated, UCLA and many others.   But Street Law is also offered as a  for-credit course not qualifying as a clinic, a part of a pro bono requirement, or a volunteer student activity.

My own program defines clinic expansively, in an effort to counterbalance the traditional litigation focus of law school, especially the first year.   Our clinic offerings include  mediation, legislation, public policy, community education, plus several that  include multi-forum advocacy.  But other leading educators have argues passionately for a narrower, more client focused definition.

Externship/Internship: These seeming  twins cause much confusion among the uninitiated.  The primary distinction follows from current ABA accreditation rules for externships, i.e for-credit, not-for-pay placements with a range of legal employers and opportunities for reflection through a classroom component or otherwise; internship is typically used for otherwise similar experiences that do not satisfy ABA requirements.

Practicum:  The new kid on the block in law, but familiar in social work and other programs for experiences analogous to law school externships. May be used as synonym for externship or  to denote an externship-like offering that doesn’t satisfy ABA requirements (my school uses it for LLM. “externships”).  Increasingly popular to describe externship-like “in the field” experiential opportunities  integrated with a seminar classroom course. In the last several year, for instance,  Georgetown, has developed a structured program of such courses in order to provide experiential education for a higher % of the student body in one of the larger law schools in the country.

Service learning:  A term widely used in undergraduate and K-12 contexts.  Often adopted by individual teachers eager to heighten their students’ understanding of current issues though exposure to how they play out in context.  May look very similar to some versions of a “practicum”.

Lab course:  A term initially coined at Seattle U. to describe small credit  simulation based courses to accompany doctrinal courses and provide an opportunity to apply the doctrine in a lawyering context and still often used that way, in for instance, Gonzaga’s first year required Skills Labs.   Other schools appear to use the term Lab for a specialty program designed to provide practical exposure to an area of law,, often including opportunities that would be considered a “clinic” under a broad definition of that term, e.g.  Chicago’s Corporate Lab, Vanderbilt’s International Law Practice Lab .

is it a ‘pipe dream” to think we can, or should, rationalize our use of these terms?  Your perspectives welcome.

Building on Best Practices: Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association, Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others.     The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education.   If you would like to author a section in the book please let us know as soon as possible.   Then by December 1, 2011 send either of us a 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea.   The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.


If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact either of us.


Looking forward to drawing  on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education!


Antoinette Sedillo Lopez ,Chair, Publication Committee

Deborah Maranville,  co-editor


Building on Best Practices–Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others. The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education. We would like to call for topic suggestions and author abstracts. If you are interested in submitting a topic suggestions, please do so by August 1 by emailing Antoinette Sedillo Lopez at lopez@law.unm.edu with the topic idea and potential authors and resources relating to the idea. If you would like to author a section in the book and 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea. The abstract is due December 1, 2011. The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.
If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact me or Deborah Maranville, co-editor.
Looking forward to drawing on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education! Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Chair, Publication Committee

Externship Conference: Responding to Changing Times

Externships 5:  Responding to Changing Times

I just returned from this excellent conference in Miami attended by over 150 externship faculty, deans, and administrators.  The Lextern list is buzzing with excitement about meeting the challenges of designing and teaching externships (or Field Placements, as we say in Albany) in changing times, and with praise for the conference planning committee and chair who organized a program rich with new ideas, methodologies, and resources.   

Thanks to conference planners Alex Scherr, Harriet Katz, Avis Sanders, Eden Harrington, Sande Buhai, Liz Ryan Cole, Robert Parker (am I leaving anyone out!?), host law schools, and conference chair, Jennifer Zawid for putting together such an informative, interesting, collaborative, challenging conference – and fun too! 

The Conference discussions, along with Carnegie and Best Practices, provides the externship community with many interesting and challenging questions issues to address, including: externships in the curriculum, designing educational outcomes in light of evolving ABA standards, increased pressures on externships as law schools and legal communities deal with the current economic downturn,  teaching ethics and professional identity in externships, etc. 

Here are a just a few highlights from the Conference to get the discussion started…

  1. There’s More Than One Way to Create a Great Externship Program

Choices regarding placement options, classes or seminars, program oversight, and training, are – or should be – a function of particular program goals and law school mission and should consider where the primary learning is expected to take place – (field and/or classroom). Avis Sanders and Eden Harrington led a panel discussion through the pros and cons of supervising attorney training, site visits, allowing placements at private firms and for-profit entities, general or subject specific classes, etc. Great food for thought for both established and new programs.

  1. ABA proposed standard 305

Alex Scherr led an open forum on the proposed elimination of interpretation 305-3 which currently prohibits law schools from granting credit to a student for participation in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.  There is still time to comment on this proposal and it is important that we weigh in as this rule will have significant impact on externships. 

As some pointed out, this might assist students in tough economic times and we should still be able to control placement educational goals even if placements pay for student work.  A vocal majority, however, expressed concern about the prospect of allowing pay and credit.  For example, would field placements lose academic legitimacy if students get paid for credits?  Assuming that students would opt for placements that are able to pay, what would this mean for the majority of public service, public interest, government, not-for-profit placements?  If schools are unable to place students in public placements, might this undermine social justice goals?  There were concerns regarding pressure to send students to private placements and to give credit for already existing paid jobs – an additional administrative burden.   I hope others will weigh in.

  1. Status of externship faculty 

I was surprised to learn that while some externship teachers and program directors are tenured faculty or even academic deans, others, including leaders in legal education and experiential learning, are not considered “faculty” at their own institutions!   Does the lack of faculty status undermine the educational mission? Does it send the wrong message to students and placements that externships are not part of the academic program?  What do others think?   

The detailed program can be found on the co-sponsor University of Miami website

 http://www.law.miami.edu/events/externships/works.php, as well as on the Lextern web

 http://laworgs.cua.edu/lexternweb/index.htm.  I hope presenters will post materials on both sites.

Collaborative Externships Update

Almost seven  months ago I blogged about the the Laurel Rubin Rural Externship Advocacy Project sponsored by the Washington State Access to Justice and the Law School’s committee.   Externship Collaborations

In June the Project was formally launched Continue reading

Washington and Lee Embarks on a New Third Year Curriculum: Embraces the Carnegie Report and Best Practices

            Washington and Lee University School of Law is dramatically changing its curriculum by creating a new third year curriculum devoted to professional development through simulated and real-client practice experiential learning.  Influenced by the Carnegie Report, Educating Lawyers, and Best Practices for Legal Education, the new third year curriculum integrates legal theory, doctrine and the development of professional, ethical judgment necessary to the development of professional identity.  This is one of the most comprehensive reforms in legal education undertaken by any law school. Continue reading

Externships — A Bridge to Practice

I just returned from an excellent conference:  Externships 4 – A Bridge to Practice.  This was the fourth in a series of national conferences by and for law school externship program faculty.  The theme of this conference was “challenging faculty and administrators to consider the role of externships in the curriculum in light of the Carnegie Report and the general call for increased skills-based, experiential learning.”  Thanks to Susan McClellan, Director, Externship Program, Seattle University School of Law and Rosanna Peterson, Director of the Externship Program at Gonzaga University School of Law for organizing and hosting this event. 

I was struck by a couple of things that I thought were worth overcoming my fear of blogging to share: 

  • First, was the ways in which properly run externship programs provide just the opportunities to learn about, reflect upon, and practice the responsibilities of the legal profession that the Carnegie Report recommends.  It is important for externship faculty to share information and join the conversation about Educating Lawyers and Best Practices for Legal Education.    
  • Second, was the troubling fact that some externship faculty feel marginalized, not only by the Carnegie Report which barely mentions “externships” (although it does refer to “clinics”), but by their law schools and even their own Clinics.  Some faculty see themselves, the courses they teach, and programs they run as completely separate from clinical education.  I always considered myself Clinical Faculty, having taught in-house clinics, as well as skills courses, and now field placements.   I am interested in hearing from others. Continue reading
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