Law Professors and Context-Based Education: The Clinic and the Classroom

New Mexico’s clinical model is quite unusual as far as clinic models go.  All of us who teach in the clinic also teach in the classroom and many faculty members rotate through the clinic.  While the model has its challenges, we think the benefits far outweigh those challenges.  One huge benefit is that faculty members are in touch with how the law actually affects people’s lives, particularly the lives of poor people.  In Best Practices, this is called “context-based education”, ( p. 141.)  


My colleague, Nathalie Martin, has blogged about some of her clinical experiences on the Credit Slips blog.   You will notice that the cases and situations she describes involve clients of the clinic and the way the credit industry seems to target poor, uneducated people.    Professor Martin does not just read about these issues.  She lives them!   Here are links to some of  her blogs:

Liveblogging the SEALS Conference 2008: Revamping the Law School Curriculum

Check it out at:

Two American Keynotes at International Clinical Conference in Cork, Ireland

Jay Pottenger from Yale and Beryl Blaustone from CUNY gave two of the keynote presentations at the recent International Clinical Conference in Ireland.   The theme of the conference was “Lighting the Fire:  The Many Roles of Clinical Legal Education”. (Wonderful conference by the way, kudos to the organizers!).  

An exciting thing about the American presentations was the leadership,,, from MacCrate, to Best Practices and Carnegie.   And, while we complain that law schools in the U.S. have not implemented MacCrate as you would expect from such an important report, nearly every law school in the U.S. now has some form of client-service clinic.   It turns out that an important report was published in the United Kingdom by the Lord Chancellor’s Committee for Education and Conduct in 1996 and was followed in 2001 by the Law Society of England and Wales proposing a new  legal educational framework to teach law students knowlege, skills and ethics.  In the wake of these two important reports, some law schools in the United Kingdom responded by including more simulation courses in the curriculum.  Professor Pottenger’s presentation focused on the superiority of client-service clinical models to simulation programs, particular in imparting training on ethics and building on student motivation.  Professor Beryl Blaustone did a masterful job of demonstrating her techniques for providing meaningful feedback to students in a client- service clinical program.   Her technique of asking the student to identify their own issues with their performance and using that as the springboard for the feedback session is very effective.   Her presentation demonstrated that there are simply some things that can only be taught through the supervison and feedback process in a client-service clinic.

This two-day conference included a wealth of papers and from many jurisdictions addressing the philosophy and techniques of clinical legal education in law schools in many countries.  It was a stimulating conference and the Best Practices book was often mentioned.  I was really proud of the leadership that American clinical legal teachers demonstrated at this important conference.  And the two keynotes by Beryl Blaustone and Jay Pottenger did all clinical teachers from the United States proud!   The conference web page is here:

Next year’s International Clinical Conference will be in July in Australia!

Peer Assessment

I hate to be one of the first to mention it, but it feels like summer is waning. As much as I love what I do during the academic year, summer break never seems long enough to catch up on what gets back-burnered by the demands of teaching – in my case, teaching students within the context of litigation. Maybe I’m jumping the gun in sensing the nearness of fall. But I’m working on my syllabus. Continue reading

A Conversation Circle with Students on Professional Identity

On returning from a women’s retreat in April where we spent some time trying to identify what we long for, I happened to open Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness, looking for a wonderful quote analogizing the soul to a wild animal.  (“If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of the tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance.”) On the preceding page I happened to see a reference to “formation.” Continue reading

Register for the UW’s Legal Education at the Crossroads Conference

Sorry it’s taken me longer to post this than expected:  The good news:  it was my left shoulder and I’m a right-ie.  The bad news: I’m clumsy, it was a cement floor and my shoulder’s broken.  And all because my internet connection wouldn’t work and I was trying to figure out what was wrong.

You can sign up for the conference and take a look at the preliminary schedule at:

Registration closes August 22, 2008, but don’t wait to register and make your hotel reservation: The UW’s Husky football team opens their season against BYU on the conference weekend and hotel space in Seattle is going fast.

Using Laptops in the Classroom as a Teaching Tool

Since I shared the first couple of emails in the current debate at UNM about laptops, I asked Alfred Mathewson if I could share his response.  He is working on using the lap tops as a teaching tool! 

“I am probably moving in the opposite direction of most of my colleagues here and in most law schools.  I am experimenting with the laptops.  While I am concerned about the extent to which they may be used to distract students, I think we must conceive of laptops as something more than notepads.  In many classes, notetaking is the only pedagogical use of the laptop.  I have been experimenting with other uses in the classroom.  If the laptops are going to be in the classroom, we should make use of them.  I am currently reviewing an online interactive casebook for Civil Procedure in case I teach it again. In Contracts this fall, I plan to experiment with bringing my laptop to class rather than using the big screen for Power Point presentations. I will use a TWEN course site. They will be able to annotate the PowerPoint but they will have no need to spend course time copying the slides. They will, however, have to use the laptop to see the PowerPoint. As I see it, we must prepare students to practice in an era far more technologically advanced than the one in which we were educated.” 

More on Laptops in the Classroom

My colleague Rob Schwartz is addressing the laptop issue in New Mexico this summer while teaching in the Pre Law Summer Program for Indian Students (PLSI) run by the Indian Law Center.  Here is his response  to Sergio Pareja’s email (described in my last  post).  Continue reading

Insights from Guanajuato re: Laptops in Class

One of my colleagues from the University of New Mexico, Sergio Pareja is here in Guanajuato teaching International Business Transactions.  He wrote the following email to our faculty about laptop use in the classroom.  I thought it would be of interest to other classroom teachers, so I asked him if I could share it with this blog.  He agreed. Continue reading

Formative Feedback Idea from Texas Tech Prof

One of the great things about teaching in the Guanajuato Summer Law Institute is the opportunity to meet professors from our partner law schools.  At our mid-day comida today, Professor Jorge Ramirez from Texas Tech talked about his approach to providing interim feedback in his International Business and International Law courses.  During the semester he gives the students problems that he asks them to work on in groups of two or three.  The problems are designed to cover the material fairly comprehensively.  Each of the groups is assigned a different problem and they are required to provide a written analysis of the problem to Professor Ramirez.  Then, he reviews the students’ written responses to the problems and then MEETS with each small group to give them feedback on their first draft.  They are asked to take his feedback and rewrite the answer to the problem.  Professor Ramirez then shares the re-writes with the whole class.   Professor Ramirez thus provides formative feedback that the students take very seriously since they know that their work will be shared with their colleagues.   He has the opportunity to assess the students learning and make adjustments during the semester to ensure that the students grasp the material and can discuss and analyze the problems effectively.  What a neat idea!

Using Clickers in the Criminal Law classroom

At the conclusion of our second year of using “clickers” (the CPS system from eInstruction) in several classes at Albany Law School, I asked students in the Criminal Law class what they thought… Continue reading

Assessments Requiring Reading Statutes Not Covered In Class:Lessons I Learned

I teach the second half of a year-long first-year civil procedure class.  We spend the semester reading and interpreting the Fed. R. of Civ. P.   Throughout the semester, I give the students hypothetical questions that require them to read and interpret the applicable Federal Rules.  This semester, I wanted to see if I could assess how well students learned how to read and interpet statutes.  The assessment was motivated, in part, by my desire to assess a broader range of skills than are normally covered in essay exams. 

As a small part of a 72-hour take-home exam, I gave students two short answer questions that required them to read Fed. R. of Civ. P that we had not covered in class and to answer two straightforward questions.  Using the fact pattern that served as the basis for the essay question, I asked students:  #1: Who must be served with this Answer?;  #2:  On what date must you file and serve your Answer? 

Much to my dismay, Continue reading

Team Based Learning

Ever hit snags when having students work in small groups? Student evaluations often tell the story:

Best thing about this class:  Small group work!!!!

Worst thing about this class: Small groups!!

I’ve always felt bad for the students who hate small groups. I know the research that collaborative and active learning results in better performance; I hear employers clamor for lawyers who can work with others. I tell the students about this and they still hate small groups.  Students complain that small group work is inefficient, frustrating, and burdensome. Students freeload. Others dominate and control. They have to take time to work together outside of class.  I’ve worked on ways to reduce the problems, but most of them involve monitoring by me or a teaching assistant, with mixed results (aside from the fact that one of my goals is to have student groups learn to be self-monitoring).

Last semester I tried another strategy, Team Based Learning, and was blown away. Continue reading

Using a text book with Best Practices in mind

When was the last time you had to read a case book in a subject you knew nothing about? If it’s been a while, I recommend you try it.  Multiply that experience by four.  Add to that experience the practice of daily carrying 20 pounds of dead weight. Then pay $500. I don’t know about you, but I am tired and drained already.

Consider the case book.  Continue reading

Using Standardized Clients in a Classroom Course

As part of the joint project with the UNM medical school that I described in earlier blogs, we used standardized clients in my Family Law course the same way standardized patients were used at the Medical School, as a potential tool of assessment. I am now thinking about using them again next year in my Family Law class and now with one semester experience under my belt, I am thinking about the potential of using them more effectively as part of the training. I saw that student interest and engagement in the topic was definitely improved because of their need to prepare for and conduct an initial interview with an actor. And, the actors filled out their evaluation of the student’s performance, so the students received feedback. I am wondering whether it might be more effective for the actors to discuss the interview with the student out of role. That is, the actor would go over the evaluation sheet and give an honest appraisal about the student’s strengths and weaknesses in the interview and also answer the student’s questions. I think such a direct communication would help the students develop more self awareness and also be a very effective formative tool to help students improve their skills. Of course, this would require that the actors be trained in effective interview techniques. I found that it was simply not practical for me to go over them with the students one by one. Too many students, not enough time! Another thought is to have the student’s go over the interviews with each other.—perhaps in pairs. Of course, this would be after training too! As I prepare to use standardized clients again this fall, I welcome your ideas about this. It would also be great to hear from others who are using standardized clients. If you don’t want to blog about this, please email me with your ideas and suggestions. Thanks!

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