Competencies-Based Legal Education

[This was originally posted by the Clayton Christensen Institute on Disruptive Innovation]

 Last week, I discussed why law schools need to respond to the changing marketplace for legal services and legal education.  In thinking about how best to prepare for that changing world, law schools need to consider how competency-based educational models can be employed to advance educational objectives for students seeking to enter the market for legal services.  As Michael Horn and I explain in our new whitepaper, Disrupting Law School, regulatory protections that have sheltered law schools from competition will continue to subside.  In this new environment, law schools need to reimagine themselves as educators for students interested in learning about the legal services sector, not simply those seeking a JD.

One way to do this is to think about legal education from a blank slate.  Rather that try to retrofit our current pedagogy to address 21st century needs, instead we need to think about it from its inception — if one were to start a school today to educate those who want a career in the legal services field, what would that school look like?

Upstart competency-based education programs have done just that in other parts of higher education.  They provide at least three new considerations for traditional law school as they begin to think about and prepare for the future.

1. Time is no longer the measure of accomplishment

Online competency-based learning reverses the traditional relationship in education between time and student learning. In the traditional educational model, time is fixed while each student’s learning is variable. With online competency-based learning, the relationship between time and learning is reversed — time becomes the variable and each student’s learning becomes essentially fixed. Students process at their own pace, moving from topic to topic upon mastery of each. Those who need more time to master a concept before moving on to the next take the time they need, while others move ahead to the next set of material and learning objectives.

2. Centrality of competencies, learning outcomes, and assessments

Online competency-based programs shift the teaching pedagogy toward student-centered learning. In an online, competency-based program, faculty and instructional designers start by identifying the competencies students must master to achieve the desired learning outcomes and then work through each to understand how a student would demonstrate mastery of those objectives. Through constant feedback, students know how they are doing and what they need to do next and teachers can determine when students have mastered competencies and are ready to move forward. The assessments in other words are both forward looking—assessments that help determine what a student studies nextand backward looking —assessments that indicate whether a student has mastered the material.

3.  Modularization of course material provides more flexibility and different business models

Online competency-based learning is also changing key elements of the traditional higher education business model. Online technologies make it possible to modularize the learning process—that is, to break usual semester-long courses into shorter learning units or modules, which can be studied in sequence or separately. When material is packaged in online modules, it is easier to use for multiple educational purposes and multiple audiences in different combinations.

Stackable modules allow students to create individualized curricula based on their own learning goals and objectives. For students who attend law school knowing the area of law in which they want to practice—a segment of the student body currently underserved due to limited course offerings in any one topic at any one law school—modules open up opportunities to stack credentials from multiple sources. The long tail of the Internet opens up these opportunities; there may be sufficient student demand if online courses can aggregate demand and serve students from around the country or even the world.

Modules also eliminate duplication and optimize teaching resources. This flexible architecture can create an entirely new business model for law-related education. When learning is broken down into competencies—rather than semester-long courses—modules of learning can be packaged into different scalable programs for very different audiences—for example, paralegals, legal technicians, law students, lawyers (CLE), judges, administrative agencies, non-JDs working in law-related fields, foreign students, high school/college moot court teams, undergraduate students, journalists, clients, life-long learners, and so forth.  The possibilities abound.

This exercise can take us in a lot of different directions.  Every direction, though, will ask us to change and move beyond the status quo.  While change is hard, it is also necessary.  I hope our whitepaper provides sufficient impetus to get started.

New York Proposes “Experiential Learning Requirements” as Condition of Licensure: CLEA and NYS Bar Committee Respond

Readers of this blog and followers of the NCBE’s expansion remember  that this past Spring New York became the 16th state  to  adopt the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), changing  its longstanding bar admission requirements.  Many voices opposed adoption including the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) (see Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar (CLEAB) report 10-29-2014  and vote of House of Delegates), the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) and the Society for American Law Teachers (SALT).  Despite these and other  opposition voices, the proposal was adopted with the new changes going into effect for the July 2016 bar examination.

During discussion of the adoption of the UBE, the Court was encouraged  to include clinical or experiential  requirements for licensing so that lawyers admitted to the New York Bar would be ahead of the curve — a position I firmly support.   On the opposite coast, California had been engaged in a multi-year process examining licensure and profession readiness which resulted in a proposal requiring 15 credits of experiential learning before admission.  In response to the movement to incorporate experiential learning in bar admission,  the New York State Court of Appeals formed a Task Force on Experiential Learning and Admission to the Bar.  Just last month, that Taskforce requested comments on its proposal that

New York adopt a new mechanism for ensuring that all applicants for admission to the bar possess the requisite skills and are familiar with the professional values for effective, ethical and responsible practice. In light of New York’s diverse applicant pool, and in an effort to accommodate the varying educational backgrounds of applicants, the Task Force suggests five separate paths by which applicants for admission can demonstrate that they have satisfied the skills competency requirement.

The New York Law Journal examined the proposal in an article found here.   In addition, the Honorable Judge Jenny Rivera, chair of the Taskforce attended a meeting of NYSBA’s Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar (CLEAB) to explain the proposal and answer questions.

It is heartening that the Court is concerned about and wants to  require the development of essential lawyering skills and professional values acquisition. However, without more, Pathway 1 of the current proposal will not actually ensure  that applicants to the bar experience the kind of skill development and value formation that the Taskforce desires.  Pathway 1, referencing new ABA standards,  requires schools to confirm that they have published  their “plan for incorporating into their curriculum the skills and professional values that,  in the school’s judgment,  are required for its graduates’ basic competence and ethical participation in the legal profession.” It also requires law schools to certify  that law graduate applicants for admission “have sufficient competency in those skills and sufficient familiarity with those values” which are publicly available on the law school’s website.  Although Judge Rivera believes that the certification process described in Pathway 1 can have some real bite, as pointed out in comments submitted by the Clinical Legal Education Association (11.9. 15 CLEA SUBMISSION ON EXPERIENTIAL REQUIREMENT ), Pathway 1 simply mirrors the experiential training requirements already mandated by the American Bar Association.     

New York’s  law school deans, not unexpectedly,  submitted comments supporting the “flexibility” of Pathway 1.  The  CLEAB report to the Experiential Taskforce expressed concern that without additional content to Pathway 1 “little will be accomplished” by the proposal.   And as one member of the NYS bar committee  argued, “what law school is going to admit that one of its graduates did not acquire the skills or  values promised on its website?”

In my opinion, the most important concern is whether applicants to the bar have ever represented or interacted with a client, or operated as a lawyer, in a live setting under guided, experienced supervision before admission.  In its comment to the Taskforce, CLEA urges that a “three- credit clinical training requirement” be added for all J. D. applicants to the New York Bar.  This makes sense.  Law school clinics and faculty-supervised externships are designed to create the very kind of skill development and value acquisition with which the Court is concerned.  And clinical faculty have developed the formative assessment tools to maximize skill and professional identity formation.

I am hopeful that, in its next iteration of the proposal, the Taskforce will heed CLEA and CLEAB’s comments and come back with recommendations that will ensure applicants for the bar are ready to engage in competent, ethical and professional representation of New York’s citizenry, corporations, and notforprofits.

 

 

 

 

Teaching Legal Reasoning More Efficiently?

Teaching the traditional analytical skills more efficiently and effectively could provide a much needed opening for broadening the range of skills taught to all law students. In the legal academy’s version of the “socratic method”, law teachers historically taught the analytical skills” implicitly”. They demonstrated legal reasoning by pushing students away from their raw intuitions of fairness and justice to articulate rules and exceptions, while attending carefully to the inevitable ambiguities of language.

Some law teachers suggest that the process of learning to “think like a lawyer” fundamentally requires time and practice and therefore cannot be significantly speeded up.

Yet the implicit approach has been repeatedly challenged by scholars seeking to teach legal reasoning more explicitly, by naming and explaining how it works.*  (An obsession with the goal of teaching legal reasoning more efficiently was a major thread in two phases of my own legal career when I taught first year civil procedure. I struggled both to teach skills more explicitly and to provide students with opportunities to practice them.)

A recent contribution to this quest by my colleague Jane Winn grows out of her experiment teaching common law legal reasoning to undergraduates. Students were randomly assigned to use either a well-regarded study aid, or Winn’s own materials. The materials were also leavened by her own and colleagues’ experiences teaching foreign LL.M. and J.D. students coming from legal systems growing out of the European continental legal tradition.

Winn’s effort, aimed at law students, is notable in three respects. First, at twenty-nine pages it fills an intermediate-length niche: longer than a typical class “handout’, but shorter than the various book length alternatives. Second, it covers case briefing, outlining and exam questions, demonstrating how the three are related. Third, it grew out of an attempt to test her teaching method empirically using random assignment to a control group. Both law students and legal educators should find it a useful contribution.

The 2015 ABA accreditation standards may provide a laboratory in which to test efforts such as Winn’s. Standard 302 now requires law schools to adopt learning outcomes that, under subsection (b), must include legal analysis and reading; Standard 314 requires law schools to provide students with both formative assessment (feedback) and summative assessments (final “grades”); under Standard 315 law schools must engage in “ongoing evaluation of the program of education, learning outcomes, and assessment methods”. At its best this combination of more intentionally articulated outcomes, feedback to students, and program evaluation could prompt law schools to evaluate the potential for greater efficiency and effectiveness in teaching legal reasoning. I remain hopeful that enough schools will approach this task rigorously and in good faith that at least some progress can be made.

*Winn’s illustrious predecessors include:

  • Leading Legal Realist Karl Llewelyn, whose The Bramble Bush: Classic Lectures on Law and Law School have been assigned to generations of law students;
  • University of Chicago Professor and President and U.S. Attorney General Edward H. Levi, author of An Introduction to Legal Reasoning, originally published in the University of Chicago Law Review and then in book form;
  • Critical Theorist and Harvard Professor Duncan Kennedy, who took the decidedly un-Harvard step of visiting at New England School of Law in his attempt to reach beyond elite students and sharpen his skill at teaching students about the “gaps, conflicts and ambiguities” that underlie the development of the common law. He shared his insights widely with former students moving into teaching careers. produced a short volume
  • My former colleagues Pierre Schlag and David Skover, who produced a short volume early in their careers that catalogued the Tactics of Legal Reasoning (1985).
  • Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams (1999)
  • Leading clinical teachers Albert J. Moore and David Binder, Demystifying The First Year of Law School: A Guide to the 1L Experience (2009)

In recent decades much of the heavy lifting in legal reasoning has devolved upon teachers of legal analysis, research and writing. Among the results is a burgeoning literature proposing variations on the syllogistic Issue-Rule-Analysis (or Application)-Conclusion approach to analyzing and writing about legal problems, as well as a variety of textbooks.

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Unmasking Assumptions about Employment Outcomes and Legal Education

In an upcoming Wisconsin Law Review article, Robert Kuehn, Associate Dean for Clinical Education and Professor of Law at the Washington University Law School, presents a cogent, well-supported and thoughtful article describing the limitations of and lessons we can learn from the existing empirical analysis correlating student enrollment in clinical education and employment outcomes.  Kuehn’s article, entitled Measuring Legal Education’s Employment Outcomes is particularly powerful because it provides a thorough empirical rejection of the claim that clinical coursework might actually harm employment outcomes, as asserted by Professor Jason Yackee and which attracted some sound-bite attention earlier this year. In what is, perhaps,  an unexpected twist, Kuehn demonstrates that using Yackee’s statistical assumptions and methodology also would produce negative correlations for those students who participate on law journals or in moot court competitions.  Kuehn argues that one can’t draw any reliable conclusion from Yackee’s 2013 model, and perhaps not from any nationwide statistical model – as opposed to a particularized analysis of one school –  on the likely effect of clinical courses (or other activities like law journal or moot court) on employment, and surely not the negative effect Yackee posits. Kuehn points out that as to clinical coursework, the available evidence (through surveys) indicates that such experiences do aid some students in securing employment.

If you, like me, still become a bit nervous about how much you actually remember from undergraduate statistics courses, do not be alarmed by this post!  You will find Kuehn’s article accessible and a quick good read, even when he is using words like “regression analysis,” “granular data” and “variable choices.”   Here are the points made in Measuring Legal Education’s Employment Outcomes which I found most helpful:

  1. Kuehn’s reminder that when one confuses correlationwith causation one is bound to come up with a “misdiagnosis.” One problem with Yackee’s analysis is the lack of granular data to calculate the true employment rate for those who took a clinic (or who did not).  In fact, the data is so poor that “the results never account for more than half of the variability in employment across schools.”
  2. Kuehn’s explanation of the “confounding effect of prestige” and bar passage on employment outcomes.
  3. The problems of validity and reliability raised by analyses which employ information from ABA questionnaires, particularly those self-reports submitted prior to 2014.
  4. The fact that “13% of law schools” provide 80% of the school-funded jobs to law graduates. Not surprisingly, Kuehn found this factor biases many results if you examine nationwide statistics. And when Kuehn removes those jobs from the statistical analysis, Yackee’s correlation with clinical education falls apart even using his own assumptions and methodology.
  5. Yackee’s model yields completely different results if one uses the US News Lawyers/judges data versus academic peer data to control for the possible influence of perceived prestige.
  6. Application of Yackee’s model to “Law Journals” and “Skills Competition” and S. Newssub-groups also show no relationship to employment outcomes!
  7. In Yackee’s model, a better ranking is “strongly associated with improved employment outcomes.” However, Kuehn points out that a “closer examination of the relationship between rank and employment indicates that this positive association, although statistically significant when applied across the entire range of top 100 schools, does not hold true for schools ranked 51 through 100 (emphasis added).” 
  8. Kuehn’s documentation of employers who require, “strongly prefer” or identify law clinic experience as a positive factor in hiring such as The U.S. Department of Homeland, legal services and  legal aid offices, district attorney, public defender, fellowships and private law firms.
  9. Kuehn’s description of National Association of Law Placement (NALP) existing information: such as the  2011 survey of lawyers with non-profit and government offices;  the NALP survey of lawyers in firms of predominantly more than 100 attorneys; the NALP survey of public interest legal employers;  and the NALP 2013 presentation on the employment market reporting that ” law firms say they want new graduates to have ‘more experiential learning, client-based and simulation.”
  10. Kuehn provision of good information on other employer information such as the Lexis-Nexis WHITE PAPER: HIRING PARTNERS REVEAL NEW ATTORNEY READINESS FOR REAL WORLD PRACTICEProfessor Neil Hamilton’s employer survey to determine the relative importance of twenty-one different competencies in employer hiring decisions, and Professor Susan Wawrose’s legal employer focus groups which found employers prefer new hires with ” well developed professional or ‘soft skills” along with “strong fundamental practice skills.”

Professor Kuehn concludes by recommending that studies could best be done on a school-by-school basis by “surveying likely employers to find out what educational experiences of students are most valued.”  Professor Kuehn also recommends that schools could also “retrospectively look at various employment outcomes for graduates and any relationship” to students’ experiences while in school.

I agree with Professor Kuehn and am happy to report that  Albany Law School,  through its faculty Assessment committee and Admissions office,  is currently engaged in conducting employer focus groups and analyzing what best helps our students obtain employment in their desired career paths.  Until good data and information suggests otherwise, Professor Neil  Hamilton’s advice to law students,which Professor Kuehn quotes in his “must read” article, bears repeating:

In this challenging market for employment, a law student can differentiate herself from other graduates by demonstrating to legal employers that the student both understands the core competencies that legal employers and clients want and is implementing a plan to develop these competencies, including an ability to demonstrate that the student has experience with these competencies.

Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Using Portfolios for Assessment

A few years ago I started to use student portfolios as part of the end-of-semester evaluation of my students. I have found that portfolios can be an excellent vehicle both for the student’s own self-reflection and for providing summative feedback.

Here is how I use them. At the end of the semester, I ask each student to prepare a portfolio of the written work the student did over the course of the semester. In doing so, each student is asked to read the first and final version of the principal documents that the student drafted during the semester (in the context of my cases, these include the client’s affidavit, any witness affidavits and a brief).

I also ask them to bring the drafts and final versions to the meeting. During the meeting, each student is expected to have reflected on his/her writing, considered how his/her writing progressed over the semester, and point out 2-3 improvements that he or she made. They are also expected to use the drafts to illustrate the progress.

My students find that the act of assembling the portfolio and rereading their own written work serves as a reminder of how far the student has come in crafting a legal theory or developing a factual account of the relevant events or even about some of the obstacles that he or she encountered along the way and how he or she managed to overcome them. I like this method of assessment because it is mainly about self-reflection. Each student in learning from his or her own work. The portfolio is simply a vehicle to make that learning tangible. It is a wonderfully, tangible way to show someone how much he or she has improved over the course of a semester.

I was recently speaking with Larry Farmer from Brigham Young University School of Law. He mentioned that he uses portfolios too. But in his case, they are videos. At the beginning of his course on Interviewing, before any class has been conducted, he asks each student to conduct a mock interview, which is videotaped. The students then spend the semester learning about, practicing, and refining their interviewing techniques.

Then, at the end of the semester, they are asked to review that first interview and to reflect upon their own improvement over the semester. Like the written portfolio that I use, this one also uses a student’s own work to demonstrate learning and progress. I plan to try it next semester.

Are there other ideas out there? Do you use portfolios? If so, how? How can I improve my process? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Starting with WHY — Building Curriculum for Clinic-wide Orientation

My clinical colleagues and I are planning to convert an Orientation that we currently jointly teach into a 2-credit Clinic Orientation module. The Orientation typically includes a mixture of joint classes and smaller individual clinic-focused sessions.

Since we are developing this new course from scratch, it provides an opportunity to think deliberatively about how we design the course and to clarify our objectives and learning outcomes. In light of the changes in ABA accreditation standards, including the need to define learning outcomes and to assess according to our stated objectives, I thought it could be helpful to document the process we are taking as we develop the course.

My faculty colleagues and I met for the first time this week to start brainstorming for development of this new Clinic Orientation course. We started by brainstorming about WHY we want to develop the course. (I was inspired to Start with Why by Simon Sinek. Here is his inspiring TED talk on that topic).

Here is what we came up with as to WHY we want to develop a new jointly-taught, credit-bearing, Orientation module:

  1. Students need to be able to do certain activities early in the semester/hit the ground running:
  • Interviewing
  • Office procedures
  • Reflection/self-critique
  • Professional responsibility 101 (when working with clients)
  • Research
  • Fact investigation (including reading/maintaining files)
  • Working with interpreters
  • Persuasion
  • Attention to cultural difference/ competency/empathy
  1. Explain the WHY of our pedagogy (explain clinical pedagogy to students)
  • Active and engaged learning
  • Direct responsibility – WHY? Autonomy, mastery, purpose
  • Collaboration – across the board, with team, fellow clinic students, students in other clinics, support staff, faculty
  • Acting for Lawyers
  1. Reinforce “one firm” culture – clinical courses are different, collegial, work together, spaces where you can learn while having fun!
  1. Service Mission of Clinics
  1. Set our expectations for students
  1. Efficiency of teaching resources

As we developed this list, our goal was to brainstorm and include as wide a scope of objectives as possible. We decided to leave for another set of meetings the tasks of thinking about how to achieve these goals and what the classes designed to achieve them would look like. Keeping the conversation on task was a challenge; the temptation was to move onto thinking about how or what. We found it easiest when we designated a person to draw us back to the WHY task when the conversation started to branch off into thinking about HOW or WHAT.

Our next step is drawn from the IDEO Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit. IDEO is a design firm. It looks at systems from a design perspective. I am excited to start applying their theories and practices to legal education. I’ll keep you posted as that project develops.

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