Teaching Students the Art of Giving (and Receiving) Feedback and Sharing IDEASS


By Kaci Bishop, UNC School of Law

Law students may be accustomed to receiving feedback, but as lawyers, they will also be called on to give feedback.  They may review a colleague’s brief or contract, adapt samples, help moot a case or supervise a summer or new associate, etc.  Learning how to give feedback effectively can also help them develop their critical eye to assess and revise their own work.  Giving feedback effectively is thus another skill worth teaching. [1]

In my classes, students have opportunities to exchange feedback with peers on written assignments through structured peer reviews and through moots and case rounds.  More informally, they exchange feedback regularly with their partner as they work on their clients’ cases, and as we debrief together in team meetings.

To be sure we have a shared vocabulary and framework for giving feedback, I include in the beginning of the semester a lesson on giving feedback.  It also sets a tone for receiving feedback.  My stated objectives for the lesson are to (1) reflect on how they have received and given feedback in the past; (2) explore what it means to have a growth mindset; (3) learn a framework for giving effective feedback; and (4) practice using that framework.

I begin by having them answer polls about what goals or concerns they have had when giving feedback in the past and then how they like to receive feedback.  Often, the polls reveal that most students want to help someone improve their work but are concerned they will hurt the receiver’s feelings—while they themselves prefer direct and honest (which students often frame to me as “harsh”) feedback.  We discuss these tensions, and circle back to them throughout the class and the semester.  We also explore and discuss the differences between direct and directive feedback, and I share how I usually give feedback (e.g., asking them questions to help them puzzle out what they need to do to make the product more effective or sometimes identifying the issue and modeling one but letting them find where they did it other times).

Figure 1: Sample Poll Question Assessing How Students Like to Receive Feedback

Discussing the polls segues to talking about what it means to have a growth mindset, because the polls usually demonstrate that the students’ best experiences in giving and receiving feedback were when they were open and ready to learn.  I introduce (or re-introduce) Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory work, highlighting the differences between the fixed mindset (intelligence is static) and the growth mindset (intelligence is malleable).  I emphasize how we all occupy both mindsets at different times, even though we may gravitate to one over the other. I emphasize, too, how we can learn to recognize when we are occupying a fixed mindset and then work to reorient ourselves to be in one of growth.[2]  For example, as a 1L, I struggled to grasp Contract law.  It would have been easy to give up and conclude that I was just not a Contracts person and write off the class (and my ability to understand it).  That’s a fixed mindset.  To succeed, I had to shift to a growth mindset.  I had to shift to thinking that while I was not yet understanding Contracts, I was capable of understanding it and needed to put forth more time and effort to do so. 

Figure 2: Slide with a summary of Carol Dweck’s mindset attributes.

One’s mindset is important for feedback—both receiving and giving. When a person is occupying a fixed mindset when receiving feedback, she is entering the exchange with the goal of receiving validation and approval.  She will be more resistant to criticism, no matter how constructive.  Similarly, when giving feedback, a person occupying a fixed mindset may offer feedback aimed more at demonstrating how smart he is or with performing if in front of other people than responding to the goals of the person seeking the feedback.  Alternatively, someone giving feedback while occupying a fixed mindset may not think he has anything of value to add and thus not offer much in the exchange.  Getting into a growth mindset—for both the receiver and giver of feedback—and seeing the exchange as an opportunity for both to learn and improve is essential for sharing feedback effectively.  If both the giver and the receiver are occupying a growth mindset when exchanging feedback, they will learn and draw inspiration from each other and propel each other to higher levels of achievement.

In addition to having a growth mindset, I advise the students that when giving feedback, they should focus on the skills or product not on the person, personality, or identity.  And their feedback should be constructive; meaning, it should be based on observations not opinions, be concrete and achievable, and limited.  The giver of feedback should not overwhelm the receiver with tons of pieces of things to correct and should always include at least one thing that should be preserved because it is already effective.

I then share the following framework for giving feedback, complete with the (possibly silly) mnemonic: IDEASS.

Figure 3: IDEASS Framework

The first objective when someone is asked to give feedback to another is to identify the priorities or goals of the person seeking the feedback.  What would the receiver most like to get out of the peer review, moot, or rounds?  What feedback would be most helpful?  How do they prefer to receive feedback?  Are there particular questions the receiver has that they are seeking answers to?  When is the product due and how much time do they have to revise?  These questions help set expectations to guide the exchange.

The student then needs to diagnose the issues.  This may be difficult; it’s also crucial because it focuses the feedback and helps to train the analytical skills and critical eye of both the giver and the receiver.  To diagnose the issues, the giver of feedback needs to understand and articulate what the underlying norms or rules of the skill or product are.  For example, if giving feedback on headings in a brief, the underlying rule for effective headings might be that they should be framed as conclusions that blend law and fact allowing the writer’s arguments to appear as an exoskeleton of the brief.  For a direct exam, the underlying rule might be that the questions should be open-ended rather than leading. These underlying issues or rules might mirror what the receiver of feedback identified as their priorities.  They might have asked for help making their direct exam more open-ended, for instance.  If the underlying norms or rules for the product are not clear, the giver of feedback should askthe person seeking feedback what they intended or how they chose to do what they did, then the giver can share observations about the product or skill.

The student giving feedback should share one or two effective aspects and then one or two areas of focus for improvement.  Often “feedback” seems only to encompass the latter but sharing what worked well or what was effectively done helps the giver know what to keep or what to replicate going forward.  Both feedback about effective aspects and those that could be improved or more effective should be shared as what the giver observed.

Sharing observations, not opinions, helps both receiver and giver to continue to occupy a growth mindset and to maintain the goal that both are learning through the exchange.  The giver should focus on what they noticed about the skill or product and reflect or even replay what the person seeking the feedback said or did.  For example, if the student seeking feedback on a direct exam asked a leading question, the student giving the feedback might note: “you asked your client: ‘Were you trying to leave your partner when you went to stay at your grandmother’s?’ That is a leading question.”

After reflecting what she noticed, the student giving the feedback can then suggest next steps or solutions.  How might someone do it differently next time?  The student may also model a solution.  She might, for example, say: “Instead, you could ask: ‘Why did you go to stay at your grandmother’s?’”  Alternatively, the student giving the feedback might ask the student who did the direct exam to arrive at a solution by saying something like: “How might you ask an open-ended question to get the same point?” At this phase, if possible, the person seeking the feedback could try again or revise the product, incorporating the feedback.

Putting it all together, a student’s feedback on the direct exam hypothetical may look like this:

  • You wanted me to assess your direct exam.
  • Your questions have a good rhythm and build upon each other in a way that allows your client’s story to come out persuasively.
  • Some of your questions were not yet open-ended. For example, at one point, you asked your client: ‘Were you trying to leave your partner when you went to stay at your grandmother’s?” That is a leading question.  Instead, you could ask: “Why did you go to stay at your grandmother’s?”

Beyond sharing IDEASS with their peer, I encourage students to also use growth language[3] in giving feedback—such as the words: yet, and, and opportunity—and to express gratitude by thanking each other for the time, feedback, and opportunity to help.  Then, to finish the lesson, I have my students practice using the framework with a simulation.  I share a video of a simulated client interview (e.g., one from the Legal Interviewing and Language Access Film Project, created by Lindsay M. Harris and Laila L. Hlass, which as one of the participants in the lightning session at the AALS Clinical Conference in the spring of 2021 noted is the gift that keeps on giving!) and have the students share their feedback to the student interviews in the video.  The students thus get to practice using this IDEASS framework for feedback in a low-stakes way.  We can then revisit this shared vocabulary and framework as needed throughout the semester when they are called upon to give feedback to a peer—and continue to build this skill along with many others.


[1] This blog post summarizes the lightning session at the AALS Clinical Conference 2021 by the same name.

[2] In addition to exploring Carol Dweck’s work, here are some other resources for incorporating her mindset theory into legal education: Corie Rosen, The Method and The Message; Heidi K. Brown, The Emotionally Intelligent Law Professor; Paula J. Manning, Word to the Wise; and Megan Bess, Grit, Growth Mindset, and the Path to Successful Lawyering;

[3] I explore growth language in more depth in my article on Framing Failure in the Legal Classroom.

Negotiating Trauma and Teaching Law

By: Mallika Kaur, UC Berkeley School of Law and Executive Director, Sikh Family Center

As a human rights advocate focused on gendered violence work, about seven years ago I began employing the term “negotiating trauma” (while developing a class of the same name for UC Berkeley School of Law) in order to encourage fellow lawyers to consider, recognize and better prioritize the many emotional interplays in our everyday work. 

This new article focuses on trauma & the classroom. I propose adopting “a combination of simple strategies… that better acknowledge trauma (whether or not the professor chooses to use that term, and whether or not the class is a small seminar or large lecture) is to everyone’s advantage in today’s law school.” Like with other negotiations, we could apply a zero-sum approach to the various players’ emotions involved in legal teaching or choose to instead engage the complexity to generate better, perhaps deeper, and eventually more valuable learning and lawyering. 

The Abstract:

HOW DO YOU NEGOTIATE TRAUMA AND EMOTIONS IN YOUR CLASSROOM? Posing this open-ended question to law professors not only begets more questions, but also often elicits a reflexive retort: law professors dare not present themselves as mental health experts and law schools have mental health resources for students having difficulties. The difficulty of this approach is that in 2021, most law students are no longer willing to accept that their legal education must suppress emotions, including trauma. For classrooms where professors may be less comfortable with emotional discussions, they may find themselves challenged and perhaps even feel obstructed from teaching their subject matter with the freedom and expertise it deserves. Are we simply dealing with an overly sensitive generation? Or are we being pushed to make overdue changes that will improve legal teaching, legal education, and eventually the profession? 

Citation Information

Kaur, Mallika. “Negotiating Trauma & Teaching Law.” Journal of Law and Social Policy 35. (2021): 113-119. https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/jlsp/vol35/iss1/6 

Foundations for Teaching: A Data-Driven Model to Help Legal Educators Build Learning Outcomes into Their Instruction

Zack DeMeola
Director of Legal Education and the Legal Profession, IAALS

Logan Cornett
Director of Research, IAALS

In 2011, IAALS—the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver—launched Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL), a unique, national initiative to change the way law schools educate students. ETL provided a platform to encourage law schools to showcase innovative teaching to produce more practice-ready lawyers who can better meet the needs of an evolving profession. One of the primary concerns IAALS hoped to address was the perceived skills gap between the abilities new lawyers have when they graduate law school and the abilities they need for practice. Of course, this gap has serious implications for educators and employers, but it has even greater implications for the profession. Not only do under-prepared lawyers undermine public trust in our legal system, but they also struggle longer and harder than they should as they try to gain footing in the legal profession. The ETL initiative has since ended, but from that work emerged Foundations for Practice, a first-of-its-kind effort to develop an evidence-based understanding of the competencies, skills, and characteristics new lawyers need to develop to be ready for practice and understand how law schools and employers can best instill these qualities in future lawyers.

Through a national survey, to which more than 24,000 lawyers from all 50 states representing a diverse array of practice settings and specialties, IAALS identified 76 characteristics, professional competencies, and legal skills that are necessary immediately out of law school—these are the 76 foundations a new lawyer needs to be successful. But uncovering this information was just the first step. We understood that the comprehensive data that came from Foundations would have more impact if we could better organize and harness it in a practical way. The goal is to offer educators and employers a framework to create more objective, transparent, and accountable practices for assessing competencies in students and new lawyers.

Learning outcomes, the bedrock of standards-based instruction, provided an obvious framework for this next phase. Learning outcomes are academic standards and methodologies used in instruction, assessment, grading, and reporting to ensure students learn, practice, and master the requisite skills and content. Learning outcomes are more than the recitation of specific skills and abilities—they operate through applying research- and evidence-based instructional practices, including rigorous assessment, to ensure student needs are being met, and are thus also used as defendable criteria for program, course and curriculum content value and effectiveness. The process emphasizes transparency, accountability, flexibility, and clarity. Thus, learning outcomes better assist educators to:

  • Structure and identify key concepts for coursework;
  • Assess student performance and whether students understand and can apply those concepts;
  • Map the relative strengths and places for improvement in programs and curriculum;
  • Set shared expectations between students and educators;
  • Collect the information needed to continually improve instruction; and
  • Collect the information needed to show evidence of effective learning for accreditors.

Learning outcomes are not a fringe concept, but they are new to legal education. Although learning outcomes are a primary feature of education in just about every other context—from kindergarten to graduate school (medical schools had an early form of learning outcomes in the 1930s, which have been modernized over time) it wasn’t until 2016 that the American Bar Association (ABA) required law schools to “establish and measure other important outcomes for those who enroll” in legal education program” by developing learning outcome measures and assessment methodologies to “improve their legal education programs and better serve the needs of students during their legal education and in their professional careers.”

While this new accreditation standard was an important development for legal education, the ABA provided precious little guidance on how learning outcomes should be implemented or evaluated. Understandably, many law schools and law school faculty, when faced with the prospect of a wholly new way to frame instruction and curriculum, have been slow to develop effective learning outcomes. In our work on this project, we learned that law school faculty, staff, and administrators are all grappling with how to structure, design, and incorporate learning outcomes and assessments into their educational programs. But we also learned that they are genuinely motivated to better prepare students for their careers after law school. In our view, a Foundations-based approach using a data-driven process to design learning outcomes and implement corresponding assessments is the best way to accomplish that goal.

The need for guidance and for a relevant, empirically validated, and effective outcomes-based framework for education spurred IAALS to design Foundations-based model learning outcomes. The five broad learning outcomes categories—Communicator, Practitioner, Professional, Problem Solver, and Self Starter—organize the 76 foundations entry-level lawyers need to succeed in the practice of law and make it easier for educators to hone their teaching methods around them. 

Registration is Open: Ensuring Equality in Legal Academia: Strategies to Dismantle Caste (webinar, May 10, 2021)

Co-produced by the Sections on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research and Academic Support

The AALS Section on Academic Support and the Diversity Committee of the Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research are co-hosting a panel presentation webinar titled “Ensuring Equality in Legal Academia: Strategies to Dismantle Caste” on Monday, May 10, 2021 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. EST exploring the caste system in legal education recently highlighted by Dean Darby Dickerson (UIC John Marshall School of Law) during her tenure as AALS President and memorialized in her article, “Abolish the Academic Caste System.” 

The caste system is a pernicious, but largely neglected, dynamic in legal academia.  As Dean Dickerson noted in her article, most, if not all, law schools maintain a caste system, with legal skills, academic support, and clinical faculty on the bottom rungs.  Exacerbating the problem is that these faculty members are largely women and persons of color, who do the lion’s share of work involving student interaction but are provided the least in terms of pay, job security, and respect.  The caste system in legal academia, like all caste systems, assigns value to certain members of the profession while devaluing others.  Thus, many legal skills, academic support, and other non-tenure track faculty do not get proper recognition or fair compensation for their many contributions, which inflicts harm on academic programs and law schools as a whole. 

Deans Michael Barry (South Texas College of Law Houston), Danielle Conway (Penn State Dickinson Law), Larry Cunningham (Charleston School of Law), Susan Duncan (Mississippi School of Law), and Michael Hunter Schwartz (McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific) will join moderator Dean Dickerson to discuss the detrimental impacts of such a caste system and potential solutions to the problem, with a particular focus on legal writing and academic support professors.  The panel will address how law schools and others can mobilize institutional support for skills professors, capture the value-add that skills professors bring to legal education, open up pathways to tenure, and minimize inequities.  As members of a profession that is dedicated to serving justice, eliminating the caste system is more than a matter of expedience.  It is a moral imperative. 

To register for this exciting webinar, click here.  Advanced registration is required.  Registration is free and open to anyone in the legal education community, including students, faculty, and staff.  For more information, including the presenters’ biographies and program objectives, go to AALS’ Events webpage. 

It’s Grading Season! Have you checked your bias?

By: Anne Gordon, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Externships, Duke Law School

I’ve often heard colleagues say that they love teaching so much their law school wouldn’t even need to pay them for it . . . but grading is a different story.  Grading is time-consuming and stressful, two things that none of us needs as we finish up an uncommonly difficult year.  We all know that taking the time to check that stress is good for our health.  You may not know that it is also critical for reducing your bias.  Mitigating our biases is critical to ensure accurate student assessment, as well as the relationship-building that is so key to our mentorship and supervision.  This article, an excerpt from a paper in the Spring issue of the Clinical Law Review, will illustrate how biases shape our thinking, show the link between stress and bias, and provide concrete ways to mitigate our bias – critical for avoiding biased behavior toward our students – in grading season and beyond.

Brains and Bias

Our brains sort through information we encounter in the world by creating schema, automatic characterizations that allow us to go on “auto-pilot” as we process information throughout our day.  These allow us to be efficient: we can distinguish a plastic bag from a log in the road while driving and react appropriately, even without conscious thought.  Our automatic judgments can also activate in ways that aren’t helpful, however, when those schema intersect with actual or perceived social characteristics like race or gender, including harmful stereotypes.

Humans are also plagued by cognitive biases, other decision-making shortcuts that can lead us to erroneous conclusions.  These biases can combine with our stereotype-based biases to produce damaging effects for our students.  For example, it is well-documented that humans harbor an Anchoring Bias, the tendency to “anchor” judgments on the first piece of information offered, and Confirmation Bias, the tendency to selectively search for information that confirms prior beliefs or judgments.  If you team-teach your clinic, you should also be on the lookout for the Bandwagon Effect.  This is our tendency to have our attitudes and beliefs shaped by others, due to our innate desire for social harmony.

It is easy to see how these biases can interact with the stereotype-based bias described above.  For example, a professor’s bias may put a student in the schema of “low performing;” if the student then turns in a poor first assignment, the professor’s cognitive bias serves to “anchor” his perception of that student in subsequent interactions.  Confirmation Bias then kicks in, and the professor seeks out errors that conform to her initial judgment of the student as being low performing.  The teacher “knew” that this student would struggle, and that’s what the professor sees.  This is what we seemed to see playing out in a recorded conversation between Georgetown professors – a conversation that got one of them fired.  The converse of Confirmation Bias is also true – students judged as competent receive the benefit of a teacher’s subconscious willingness to overlook evidence to the contrary (and may also miss out on opportunities to learn). 

The interaction of these effects has been borne out in the research.  One study by Dr. Arin Reeves showed how lawyers found more errors in a writing sample that they thought had been written by a Black associate, despite identical errors in a “white-written” sample.  The study’s authors concluded that Confirmation Bias caused the partners to look more carefully for errors in the “Black lawyer’s” work, and more easily disregarded errors by the white lawyer, who fit their stereotype of a generally competent professional.   While this study has not been replicated among law faculty, it would be easy to see how it could play out in our evaluation of our students.     

Stress Amplifies Bias

The conditions of teaching, especially in stressful times, create a perfect storm for our biases to manifest.  When we are stressed, low on blood sugar or sleep, or engaging in sustained intellectual engagement (think a stack of student work to evaluate), we become cognitively depleted.  Cognitive depletion leads us to fall back on our biases, simply because the associations are already there – even where we might be able to keep those biases in check if we were at our best.  Cognitive depletion and stereotype bias feed off each other, where the more stressed we are, the more biased we become.  This can take shape in two ways: first, for biased teachers, stress amplifies their bias.  But it also means that teachers trying to overcome their bias, or trying to communicate a lack of bias to their students, are taxed in a way that can result in – you guessed it – bias.  Studies have shown that the more cognitive resources teachers spend trying to communicate a lack of racism to their students, the more cognitive depletion that results.

Our biases manifest in interactions with our students, in the form of decreased eye contact, nervousness, discomfort, awkwardness, speech errors, stiffness, and other subtle avoidance behaviors that convey dislike or unease, possibly due to fear of being labeled a racist, or fear of being met with hostility by our students.   These behaviors, so subtle that they may not be perceptible even as we’re doing them, are therefore less controllable through conscious will – you can’t just will yourself to blink less.  Members of minoritized groups, however, can sense the awkwardness, leaving them wondering: was that constructive feedback due to actual performance, or instructor bias?  Or was that positive feedback due to professors’ over-correcting their biases, opting or a “great job” instead of giving them the real story about their abilities?  This ambiguity is often a contingency of under-represented students’ identity, and ultimately creates a dynamic where students are not fully capable of gauging their own performance, not fully able to accept and make use of our feedback, and not fully able to engage in the learning process.

A Good Time to Make a Change

As we go into our grading, feedback, and evaluation season, therefore, it is imperative that we take affirmative steps to mitigate our bias, and the stress that amplifies that bias.  These measures can fall roughly into three categories: the first is addressing our own bias, the second is reducing our cognitive load, and the third is changing our processes.  Here’s a useful frame used by psychologist Jonathan Haidt at NYU.  The frame here is that in each of us there is an elephant and a rider, walking on a path. The Rider is our rational side; our evidence-based decision-maker.  Our Elephant is our emotional side – it acts based on feelings and instincts.  The Path is our environment, our systems.  Here’s how it works: although the rider holds the reins and appears to lead the elephant, there’s only so long the rider can struggle with the elephant before the six-ton animal just takes over.  The elephant might do what the rider wants for a while, but where there’s a struggle, the elephant will always win.  Fortunately, because the elephant goes on auto-pilot so often, it’s happy following a path – and it will follow the path of least resistance.

So according to Haidt, in order to change, you need to do three things: tame your elephant, strengthen your rider, and shape your path. The first, taming your elephant, requires mitigating your own bias.  This requires sustained work to rid ourselves of negative internalized stereotypes, through training, exposure to cross-cultural diversity, and nurturing a growth mindset (making you less likely to favor only those you’ve identified as “smart”).

Strengthening our rider means stopping ourselves from falling back on our biases – we do this by reducing the conditions that are ripe for bias to present (in other words, reducing cognitive load).  One way to do this is through mindfulness practice, which can increase our ability to become aware of our emotions and biases, and therefore better able to engage our self-regulatory processes, so we can act in a manner congruent with our values.  Another simple-to-describe (if tricky to implement) way to stop a retreat into cognitive overload (and bias) is to try to reduce the number of cognitively taxing activities before student interactions.  Interpersonal stress, impending deadlines, a sleepless night, and even bodily discomfort can lead to cognitive taxation.  So try not to schedule an entire day of back-to-back supervision meetings, or a student meeting directly after a stressful faculty meeting.  Get extra sleep, exercise, and stretch during your feedback week.  Don’t grade student work after watching the news.  And here’s more good news: another easy way to re-charge one’s cognitive batteries is to eat a snack.  Researchers have proven that some of the effects of cognitive depletion can be undone by ingesting glucose.  So go ahead and eat that leftover Easter candy – it’s for your students.

The final way to reduce bias is by shaping the path: de-bias our process.  Formulas, or evaluation rubrics, can help mitigate these problems by making performance metrics explicit, concrete, and consistent.  In addition to leading to less biased grading, a good rubric will also help the teacher, by easing the pain of a stressful feedback discussion.  Where teachers can be precise and name concepts, they can be clear with their feedback. Without such clarity, the message teachers seek to convey for future learning may be muddied, awkward, and cause cognitive strain (which amplifies our bias and impairs our students’ learning).

Those lucky enough to be team-teaching have the good fortune to be able to engage in a practice known as a calibration session, where the individual faculty members write preliminary appraisals of the students, including proposed ratings.  Then the faculty meet and show their proposed ratings along with the rationale behind the rating.  These sessions have the advantage of mitigating bias in the first place (because faculty are pressed to base their judgments on objective measures) and may cause further elimination of bias when forced to confront their own ratings against others’. 

As we round out our semester, reading our final student assignments, scheduling our final feedback conversations, and recording our assessments, it is imperative that we also make the time to check our biases.  As you sit down to grade, remember the Elephant, the Rider, and the Path, and do the work required to make your feedback and evaluation fair.  Our students deserve it.

Creating Brave Spaces Throughout the Semester

On May 1st from 11:00am – 11:45am, Sherley Cruz (UTK) , Jamie Langowski (Suffolk), Catherine LaRaia (Suffolk), Caryn Mitchell-Munevar (New England), and Kelly Vieira (Suffolk) will present Implicit Bias 201: Strategies for Incorporating Implicit Bias Throughout a Course at the 2021 AALS Clinical Conference.  

As clinicians, we are intentional about incorporating discussions regarding implicit bias at orientation and within cross-cultural communication discussions. But, how many of us intentionally carve out spaces throughout the semester to discuss implicit bias or consistently create “brave spaces” to encourage students to raise issues of implicit bias?

At the Implicit Bias 201 session, participants will learn strategies to create spaces that deliberately and consistently weave discussions about implicit bias into seminar, supervision, and rounds. From ways to signal that implicit bias is a valued part of classroom to making a habit of asking for diverse points of view, we can easily continue to discuss implicit bias throughout the semester. Participants will create and share model language for syllabi and classroom exercises to make discussions about implicit bias an on-going, reflective classroom practice. For those interested, this session will serve as a launching pad for a working group dedicated to intentionally incorporating implicit bias into our classrooms.

Fostering Healthy Lawyers: Implementing Well-Being as a Learning Outcome for Ourselves and Our Students

Kendall Kerew (Georgia State), Brittany Stringfellow Otey (Pepperdine), Gail Silverstein (UC Hastings), and Kelly Terry (Arkansas – Little Rock) will host (AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education) Fostering Healthy Lawyers: Implementing Well-Being as a Learning Outcome for Ourselves and Our Students, on Saturday, May 1, at 9 a.m. Pacific, 11 Central, 12 Eastern.

Good health and well-being are essential for lawyers to provide competent representation and experience fulfillment in their careers.  Even before the pandemic made this point emphatically, the ABA’s  “Report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being” found that the legal profession is falling short in promoting and ensuring the well-being of its members. While legal employers report that resiliency, and stress and crisis management are important skills for new attorneys, law schools often fall short in focusing on the development of these skills. Rather, many students who enter law school healthy develop mental health and substance abuse problems that follow them into the profession.

In the coming weeks, the ABA will address two relevant proposed revisions to the ABA Standards (one requiring law schools to provide substantial opportunity for the development of professional identity, which encompasses wellness and well-being, and one requiring law schools to provide information on law student well-being resources). In light of these proposed revisions, this session will explore how clinics and externships are uniquely positioned to incorporate and emphasize well-being, the accompanying challenges and opportunities, and the tools to implement and assess well-being — including an assessment rubric — as a learning outcome for both ourselves and students.

Planning for Resilience

Clinicians know all too well how difficult it can be to sustain our energy, health, and hope over the course of a semester, an academic year, and our careers.  One tool to build sustenance to keep at it, and to be there for our students, colleagues, and institutions, is rooted in the practice of resilience.  Resilience is a concept that is most helpful as a well-formed concept, rather than a generalized battle cry.  To this end, at the AALS clinical conference on April 29 (11:00-11:45 a.m. EDT), Elizabeth Keyes (University of Baltimore) and Anita Sinha (American) will lead a session entitled “Planning for Resilience.”

The faculty guiding the session acknowledge how the invocation of resilience can be frustrating (or worse) for individuals and communities who have faced racism, violence, and other injustices, typically for generations.  They hope to alleviate the potential burden of resilience by suggesting how it can be a collective endeavor, and how the process of self-definition can lead to concrete movement toward resilience.  The session will endeavor to build on an Audre Lorde quote: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”      

The session will collectively define the concept of resilience, and then engage in an exercise that assists participants to begin defining for themselves what matters to them personally, so to build a sense of self-definition that can be used to filter which opportunities they pursue, and which they decide to decline.  The session will conclude by connecting the concepts of self-definition and resilience to the active process of planning and investing in ourselves.

Fostering Wholehearted Lawyers through Clinical Legal Education

By: Susan L. Brooks, Associate Dean for Experiential Learning, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

            What does it mean to be a wholehearted lawyer?  Brené Brown defines wholehearted living as cultivating tools that allow us to experience a sense of love, worthiness, and belonging through daily practices of courage, compassion, and connection. 

I’ve discussed wholeheartedness in connection with Relational Lawyering, which I’ve defined as habits of mind and practices that center relationships, including the relationship with ourselves (personal), with each other (interpersonal), and the broader structures and institutions in which we live and work (systemic).  A relational approach is  grounded in the interconnectedness and mutuality of all beings.  All law teachers can bring wholeheartedness into the classroom if we adhere to the following core principles:

  • Teach from a place of kindness and curiosity with humility and transparency.
  • Recognize that everyone matters and that everyone wants to be seen and heard. ‘Mattering’ correlates with academic success and improved wellbeing
  • Appreciate our own contexts, including our values, multiple and intersectional cultural influences, identities, and histories, AND appreciate the contexts of others with whom we work and interact, and those who are impacted by our work.
  • Adopt a strengths-oriented, optimistic, growth mindset teaching and learning orientation.
  • Apply a relational ethic of care by ensuring everyone is given a voice, is listened to deeply and heard, and is responded to with dignity, respect, openness, and a generosity of spirit. This ethic of care applies with respect to our own self-compassion, as well as at an interpersonal level with students and others, and also represents a positive vision of lawyers’ professional roles and their potential impact on society.

In the context of clinical legal education, we have unique opportunities to apply these principles and foster them in our students through fully embracing our roles as teachers and supervisors.  By encouraging wholeheartedness in our students, we can help them become more effective in their immediate work with clients and others they encounter in student practice and support their positive professional identity formation.  At the same time, we can increase our own effectiveness and gain more enjoyment and fulfillment in our work. 

            I’m excited to offer a concurrent session at the upcoming clinical conference (Thursday, April 29th, 4:30-5:15) where we’ll explore teaching wholehearted lawyering in our clinical courses and programs. I’ll share core tools and practices from my recent clinical teaching experiences in a community lawyering clinic and an externship course.  I’m also eager to hear about ideas and tools others have been using that can foster wholeheartedness, including colleagues who haven’t previously thought of their work along these lines.

            In the session we’ll explore wholehearted practices using four themes that have become my teaching mantras over the past few years. All are drawn directly from the work of adrienne maree brown and are key elements of what she calls Emergent Strategy in her book by the same name.  While brown writes about these ideas in the context of social justice movements, they offer meaningful guidance for our work with students at the personal and interpersonal levels as well.  I share them here with deep gratitude to brown, my co-facilitators of the Law and Social Change Jam, and its sponsoring organization, YES! (www.yesworld.org).

  • What we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system–“Fractals”

The idea of fractals comes from the natural world, where complex patterns replicate themselves beginning at a tiny scale and growing ever larger.  Appreciating fractals helps us understand the reasons we need to emphasize the importance on improving our own self-awareness as well as that of our students. Fractals teach us that how we are with ourselves deeply affects how we interact with others on an interpersonal basis, and that those personal and interpersonal dynamics have broad ripple effects on the larger systems in which we live and work, especially those we aim to transform through our clinical work.  Attending to what’s happening at the small scale means embracing small acts of kindness we can extend to others, including our students, clients, and colleagues.  It also means working to avoid microaggressions as much as possible and acknowledging when small (or large) unintended harms have taken place, so that there can be a possibility for accountability, repair, forgiveness, and healing to take place.

  • What we pay attention to grows— “Attention liberation.” 

This phenomenon demonstrates the reasons we need to focus on strengths—our own, our students’ and those of our clients and client communities. We can create new possibilities by asking and reflecting on what is working well, and how do we do more of it, rather than only asking what is broken and how we can fix it.  Attention liberation also invites us to notice our own experience and our reactions, especially places of discomfort or stretch, and embrace this discomfort as a necessary part of learning. By paying more attention to our own experience, we can become more comfortable with being uncomfortable for the sake of our own growth and transformation as well as the transformation of our interpersonal relationships and our society.  Attention liberation can ultimately support our efforts to move toward the liberation of historically marginalized individuals and communities, and to achieve equity, inclusion, belonging, and wellbeing for all.

  • Move at the Speed of Trust

The work of wholeheartedness is slow work. Building trust takes time and requires sensitivity to all the issues identified above, along with a trauma-informed and healing-centered lens on relationship-building. We need to recognize and honor this need for slowness by taking time for what I and others call “container building” in our clinics, meaning that we need to invest significant time and energy early on to lay the foundations for the work of wholeheartedness. We then need to check in regularly and genuinely invite and be responsive to feedback.  Building the container has some specific elements, including reaching out to students prior to the beginning of class and inviting them to share about themselves and an concerns they may have; creating a syllabus that includes relational learning goals and outcomes; acknowledging who we are and our histories, and where and how our clinics are situated;  welcoming our students whole selves’ into the work; using invitational language and meaning it; inviting sharing about values, particularly the values we bring into conflict; developing community agreements grounded in those shared values, including a commitment to create Brave Space; talking about language and the importance of choosing our words carefully and speaking from the “I” and from the heart; setting intentions; and incorporating music, gentle movement, breathing exercises, poetry, and other contemplative readings.  

  • Emphasize Presence over Prep; Critical Connections over Critical Mass

Let me be clear: strong preparation is essential to our and our students’ clinical work.  AND–by moving at the speed of trust and spending time building the container, we and our students can maximize the potential positive impact of our work by deepening our relationships and interconnectedness at all levels–what I call mindful engagement.  Mindful engagement means practicing mindfulness as a set of tools linked to our sense of purpose and to creating a more just world. Engaging in this whole bodied, wholehearted presence, means being able to slow down and notice what is happening for us moment by moment in our daily lives—meaning our bodily sensations and emotions as well as our analytical minds. To become more fully present, we need to listen with an open mind and open heart, to bring empathy and compassion to the difficult work of authentic relationship building across differences. We need to become more aware of our assumptions, biases, blind spots, power, privilege, and social location. We need to slow down enough to suspend judgments and make more intentional choices and be more reflective. We need to hold space for stillness, sadness, joy, and creativity. We also need to be willing to be vulnerable, to unmask and reveal more of ourselves, while also maintaining healthy boundaries. We need to model both Chutzpah-the ability to speak our truth—and Humility. Brené Brown encourages us to embrace this combination of traits as “sacred awkwardness.” 

Sources

Susan L. Brooks, Mindful Engagement and Relational Lawyering, 48 Southwestern L. Rev.267 (2019) (available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3397326).

Susan L. Brooks, Fostering Wholehearted Lawyers: Practical Guidance for Supporting Law Students’ Professional Identity Formation, 14 St. Thomas L. Rev. 412 (2018). (available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3169991.)

adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds 15, 41-42, 50(2017) (available at: Emergent+Strategy+full+book.pdf.)

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are 1-6 (2010).

Mickey Scottbey Jones, Invitation to Brave Space (2017) (available at: https://helpingout.net/2018/12/02/invitation-to-brave-space-poem-by-micky-scottbey-jones/.

Shawn Ginwright, The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered engagement (2018 ) (available at: https://ginwright.medium.com/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed-care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69c).

Jenni Whelan, Grounding Professional Identity Formation in Wholeheartedness in Clinical Legal Education (April 15, 2021) (unpublished manuscript on file with author).

YES! Facilitation Manual (2017) (available at: https://www.yesworld.org/facilitation-manual/)

CLEA STATEMENT ON ANTI-RACIST LEGAL EDUCATION

Nearly a year has passed since historic events and protests, domestically and internationally, brought renewed attention to racial justice and the discriminatory and racist practices ever present in our social structures. The Black Lives Matter protests called attention to the unjust and disproportionate treatment of Black and Brown individuals by law enforcement and other institutions. More recently, violent attacks have roiled Asian communities, which have already been the targets of violence and hateful rhetoric since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And publicized incidents at various institutions of higher learning have demonstrated the failure of these institutions to protect students from racism, even within the walls of academia. As law schools and faculties reflect on how to advance racial justice and equality, the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) calls upon law school administrations and faculties, including experiential faculty, to play an active role in reforming our institutions and transforming our communities to be anti-racist. 

An anti-racist curriculum is essential to disrupting and undoing racism in all its forms. Experiential courses are a critical component of any effective anti-racist curriculum, as such courses often allow for individualized student engagement, via legal work in local and marginalized communities, in order to promote social change and access to justice. 

But experiential faculty should not rest on traditional notions of clinical and externship pedagogy. We encourage experiential faculty to actively implement principles of anti-racist education into their teaching. As recent events have made clear, students from marginalized backgrounds have long been considered less qualified and competent than their peers by some faculty, including law faculty. Such treatment creates an inequitable and hostile educational environment that can impede students’ ability to learn and succeed. As experiential faculty, we are particularly concerned with how racist and biased views from faculty members can negatively affect student performance in experiential courses. The elimination of biases and the perception of biases in grading and assessment is particularly important in experiential courses, which do not generally employ blind or anonymous grading. Experiential faculty must therefore create an intellectual environment that promotes a climate of equity and inclusivity for all students.  

CLEA also encourages law schools to treat their experiential faculty equitably in terms of pay, job security, and status, as those faculty members are often disproportionately women and racial minorities. Inequalities between faculty members communicate to students, whether implicitly or explicitly, the relative value of those faculty. Moreover, even as women and racial minorities tend to be overrepresented in experiential faculties as compared to non-experiential faculties, law schools must do more to increase the diversity in their experiential faculties. As a recent essay by the CLEA Faculty Equity & Inclusion Committee demonstrates, the racial diversity of clinical faculty has remained stagnant in recent decades. The need for diverse faculties in experiential education is self-evident. Demographics matter, and any lack of diversity in experiential faculty negatively affects students, clients, and communities alike. CLEA has led efforts to diversify clinical and externship faculties and will continue that work in upcoming programming at the 2021 AALS Clinical Conference, in materials developed with the AALS Clinical Section Policy Committee, and in legal scholarship. We look forward to continuing this work alongside our colleagues in the coming months and years through specific recommendations aimed at improving the dismal demographical data that our research has identified.  

Law schools should take proactive steps to ensure that their faculty members work to eliminate biases and racism in their teaching and should support their students of color, who inevitably face disparate treatment and shoulder the burdens of responding to such incidents. They should also prioritize hiring faculty members that reflect the communities they serve in their experiential programs and treat those faculty members equitably. Despite the recent attention given to anti-racist initiatives, law schools have much work to do in their quest to develop a more equitable, just, and inclusive discipline and profession. CLEA looks forward to working with its members and other members of legal academia to further these goals. 

 
This statement was drafted and approved by the CLEA Faculty Equity & Inclusion Committee and approved by the CLEA Board of Directors.  

SALT: Social Justice in Action

Social Justice in Action Webinar
SALT is proud to resume our webinar series, Social Justice in Action, featuring law school teachers sharing their expertise on how to educate the next generation of lawyers, support students of color, and dismantle structural inequality and racism in the United States.

This February 26 webinar will explore trauma informed lawyering and teaching. Experts in this field will share insight into how we better can support students, clients, and ourselves in the face of racism, other forms of discrimination, economic and resource inequality, experience with violence, health and housing insecurity, and other trauma. Register below to join us for this month’s important discussion.
 Trauma Informed Teaching & Lawyering Friday, February 26, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST
Register Here 
Featured Panelists
Sarah Katz
 Prof. Katz joined the Temple Law faculty in July 2012. She directs and teaches the Family Law Litigation Clinic. She researches and writes about trauma-informed legal practice, the child welfare system, child custody, intimate partner violence, and other family law topics.
Teri McMurtry-Chubb

 Prof. McMurtry-Chubb researches, teaches, and writes in the areas of critical rhetoric, discourse and genre analysis, and legal history. She has lectured nationally on structural discrimination in educational institutions and the workplace, and is a leader in designing curricula to facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Andrew Sta. Ana

 Mr. Sta. Ana is the Director of Law and Policy at Day One. Based in New York City, Day One partners with youth to end dating abuse through community education, supportive services, legal advocacy and leadership development. Mr. Sta. Ana works to amplify the voices of young survivors and to promote healthy relationships.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email
containing information about joining the meeting.

Registration is Open for the “Teaching Multicultural Lawyering” Conference!

By

By: Kim O’Leary, Professor, WMU-Cooley Law School and Mable Martin-Scott, Professor, WMU-Cooley Law School


Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce registration is open for our online conference Teaching Multicultural Lawyering: Development, Integration and Conversation at WMU-Cooley Law School.  There is no charge to attend.  

Information about registration, schedule and the conference topics and panelists follow.   The focus of the conference is teaching multicultural lawyering in a variety of forms.

The online conference will take place on Thursday, March 11 (from Noon-3:30 p.m. EST) and Friday, March 12, 2021 (11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. EST).

Registration Information

Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/teaching-multicultural-lawyering-development-integration-and-conversation-tickets-124694060291. 
Please note that space is limited.  The deadline for registration is February 19, 2021.

Conference Schedule

The conference agenda is designed to accommodate the many demands on your time by focusing on two afternoons with two sessions each day and a keynote panel discussion on Friday.

While we understand there are many competing demands on your time, we encourage you to attend the full event if possible.  This conference will bring together law professors who teach this subject in different ways.  We would like to build on this shared knowledge to explore the possible ways we can teach these important issues to law students.

The conversations will be enriched and most effective if participants attend all presentations and activities that we have planned for these two afternoons.

That said, we know that everyone will not be able to attend all the sessions.  We only ask that when you sign up for a small group session, you are reasonably sure you can attend that small group.  You do not have to enroll in every small group opportunity.

Program Overview

The following is a brief overview of the conference.  Some of the sessions will have break-out groups to facilitate small, in-depth discussions.  We look forward to welcoming the distinguished speakers and panelists!  Listed below are panelists who are confirmed.

Thursday, March 11 (from Noon-3:30 p.m. EST)

Session 1:  Introduction; Multicultural Lawyering: Development and Teaching the Course

Professor O’Leary (co-moderator), Professor Martin-Scott (co-moderator), and WMU-Cooley Law School students

Session 2:  Learning Objectives and Assessment Regarding Multicultural Curricular Offerings
 

Professor O’Leary (moderator); Professor Dan Sheaffer, WMU-Cooley Law School; and, Catherine McCollum, Director, Teaching and Learning Center, WMU-Cooley Law School


Friday, March 12, 2021 (11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. EST)

Distinguished Panel Discussion:  Insights from Those Who Have Led the Way

President and Dean James McGrath (moderator); Dean and Professor Leonard M. Baynes, University of Houston Law Center; Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor Danielle Conway Penn State Dickinson Law, Professor Berta Hernández-Truyol, University of Florida, Levin College of Law; and, Professor Emerita Vernellia Randall, University of Dayton School of Law

Session 3:  Incorporating Multicultural Topics Into Law Courses

Professor Paula Johnson, Syracuse University College of Law; Professor Arlene S. Kanter, Syracuse University College of Law; Professor Suzette Melendez, Syracuse University College of Law; and, Professor Mary Szto, Syracuse University College of Law


Session 4:  Professional Identity and Multicultural Lawyering

Professor Martin-Scott (moderator); Professor Janice Craft, University of Richmond School of Law; and, Professor Lucy Jewel, University of Tennessee College of Law


Please contact us at mcl@cooley.edu with questions and if you would like to be added to our interest list to receive updates and other details as they become available.  Anyone who registers for the conference will receive regular updates.


We hope you can join us!

Kim O’Leary, Professor, WMU-Cooley Law School

Mable Martin-Scott, Professor, WMU-Cooley Law School

Examining Our Experiential Experiments

By Phyllis Goldfarb

In their new article, Assessing the Experiential (R)evolution, 65 Villanova Law Review 713 (2020), Allison Korn and Laila Hlass describe the ways in which experiential education is experimental education.   Faced with the 2014 ABA regulation mandating that all students earn at least six credits toward graduation in experiential courses, clinical education has been responding experimentally to the need to do more experientially, offering more courses in more forms to more students. At the same time, many law schools have been doing more with less, as the need for experiential growth has been accompanied by the diminished availability of resources.  

We can add to the complexities of this picture our burgeoning crises in global health, democratic governance, lethal racism, economic inequality, planetary survival, and other dangerous and pressing social problems that are implicated in the kind of work that clinical education undertakes.  Involving students in urgent and weighty matters of law and justice has long animated the clinical movement.  Have the ABA’s regulatory moves facilitated or impeded these aims in any way?  How is clinical education faring at this challenging moment? 

Korn & Hlass seek to address questions like these empirically, reporting in their article the findings of a 2018 survey they conducted to gather information about how experiential programs have changed in response to the ABA’s six-credit mandate.  The authors find that our experiential experiments have yielded an array of curricular innovations, especially though not exclusively in upper-level courses.  Their article also confirms the trend in most law schools to name a dean or director of experiential education, presumably to help design and oversee the experiential curriculum and to manage expanding experiential programs.  

The latter finding builds on those analyzed in Barry, Dinerstein, Goldfarb, Maisel, and Morton, Exploring the Meaning of Experiential Deaning, 67 Journal of Legal Education 660 (2018). In this article, my co-authors and I observed that despite a rapid increase in the creation of experiential administrator positions, and the assignment of various tasks to their holders, law schools had not fully conceptualized the nature of the position.  Consequently, the meaning of experiential deaning was in the process of invention and negotiation in each dean’s school.  In other words, these roles were experiments. 

Experiments, of course, are designed to be evaluated.  Applying a clinical method of learning, Korn & Hlass urge that we develop processes for evaluating recent experiments in experiential education, so that we can extract the lessons inherent in our experiences with administering, teaching, and reforming it.  Which changes are working well and worth retaining?  Which should be revisited?  Are institutional goals guiding these decisions?  To the extent that experiential administrators are steering these changes, how have institutional goals informed their work?   Are law schools further developing and defining these administrative positions?  Are these positions evolving in a sustainable way?  What conditions best support their sustainability?

The authors, experiential administrators in their respective institutions, have sought to learn from their own experiences in these administrative positions, to ask pertinent questions, suggest possible answers, and frame an assessment project that would guide them, and all experiential educators, in moving forward as knowledgeably and effectively as we can from where we stand now.  A rigorous assessment project of the sort that they helpfully propose in this article would inform our choices about the future of experiential education.

Having seen over many years how experiential learning can enliven, deepen, and transform legal education, I strongly value the expressive quality of the ABA’s regulatory directives to provide that kind of educational engagement to all law students.  I can envision rich curricular possibilities that these directives might support.  But my underlying fear has been that general law school administrators, especially those lacking awareness of the insight-cultivating aims of clinical pedagogy, would seek bare bones fulfillment of the mandate, finding the most limited and low cost ways to offer all students six experiential credits and shortchanging the educational opportunity that the mandate might represent.  Has that happened?  Korn & Hlass have begun to elicit the sort of information we need and to frame the kind of assessment process that we can use to better understand what the ABA’s regulatory efforts have wrought.

In gathering and analyzing experiential education’s experimental data, Korn & Hlass have taken an important first step toward a process of conscious assessment and collective deliberation that hold promise of improving our experiential programs and of identifying meaningful, inclusive, and sustainable practices for the next stage of development in experiential education.  The experiential education community would be well-served by joining them in this important and productive endeavor.

Assessing the Experiential (R)evolution

by Professors Laila Hlass (Tulane Law) and Allison Korn (UCLA Law)

In the midst of calls for law schools to meaningfully address systemic racism in our institutions and a pivot to virtual and hybrid learning in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the time is now to consider new paths forward in experiential education. Furthermore, in the wake of deadly assaults on our democracy, law schools’ should grapple with how to teach  justice and social change formally through curriculum and informally through programming. We hope to spark conversation and action regarding reimagining legal education, specifically contemplating the roles that experiential education and experiential faculty should play in the future of law schools.

For more than a century, law schools did not generally mandate any experiential education, but in 2014, the ABA adopted six-credit mandate, alongside a packet of experiential reforms.  In 2018–2019, as the first classes of law students graduated under the revised ABA Standards, we conducted a national survey of ABA-accredited law schools, asking about changes in experiential education and we received responses from 126 institutions.

Our article Assessing the Experiential (R)evolution, recently published in Villanova Law Review, reports findings from this empirical investigation into the experiential landscape shift since the revised Standards were adopted. From our survey, we learned of a recent proliferation of deans and directors of experiential education. Along with this came continued growth in experiential curricula, including among experiential courses in the first-year curriculum, and experimentation with new pedagogical approaches, such as adopting hybrid experiential courses termed “labs” and “practicums.” These trends of expansion and experimentation raised many questions for us:

  • As law schools increasingly add deans and directors of experiential education, experiential courses, and new tools for course assessment and approval, while experimenting with new course models, are they also working to uplift experiential programming as an essential part of the institution?
  • As law schools hire new experiential faculty and appoint experiential deans and directors, are they being responsive to the clinician diversity imperative, taking steps to identify, recruit, and support clinicians of color?
  • Are law schools not only integrating experiential deans, directors, and faculty into the greater faculty but also ensuring that they have reasonably similar security of position and a voice in law school governance?
  • While investing in integration across law school coursework, have law schools acknowledged that experiential education is core to the law school curriculum?

Our article proposes a series of recommendations aimed at ensuring sustainability for experiential deans and directors, implementing equitable practices for experiential curriculum and faculty development, and assessing curricular changes thoughtfully and deliberately. But this proposal is only a starting point for deeper discussion about how we might approach our experiential programs and renew our collective vision for robust, innovative, justice-centered experiential education. Over the next few weeks, the Best Practices Blog will host reactions to and commentary on these themes from a deep bench of extraordinary colleagues in the experiential community. From building sustainable administrative roles to examining and improving racial diversity among experiential faculty; from increasing experiential offerings for first-year students to highlighting changes within externship and field placement programs – each commentary will help us assess and build on current experiential programs and call on our institutions to better understand and support the increasingly vital role experiential education plays in the legal academy.

How LSSSE Informs Best Practices in Legal Education

Chad C. Christensen and Meera E. Deo

The Law School Survey of Student Engagement is based on decades of empirical research on effective educational practices showing that the more engaged students are, the better their academic and professional outcomes.[1] Since 2004, LSSSE has conducted an annual survey of law students in partnership with law schools across the country.[2] Survey results provide an opportunity for schools to better understand their student population and for LSSSE staff to document, reflect on, and influence trends in legal education.[3]

The LSSSE survey items were created out of best practices in teaching and learning; as such, they align well with Roy Stuckey’s Best Practices for Legal Education and the Carnegie Foundation’s Educating Lawyers – two publications that serve as foundational works of this blog.

For this post, we focus on best practice concepts described by Stuckey in his book and highlighted in Chapter 4, “Best Practices for Delivering Instruction, Generally”.  These recommendations come from Section C, which urges professors to “Create and Maintain Effective and Healthy Teaching and Learning Environments” by adherence to three principles:

  • Have High Expectations
  • Foster a Supportive Environment
  • Encourage Collaboration

Have High Expectations

Two questions on the LSSSE survey focus on high expectations and academic rigor.  The first asks students how often they worked harder than they thought they could to meet faculty members’ standards or expectations.  In 2019, 59% of law students frequently[4] worked harder than they thought they could to meet faculty standards or expectations, reflecting an increase since 2012 (52%). This positive trend indicates that students are being challenged in more meaningful ways than they were in the past and working hard to meet the high expectations of their professors.  

Another LSSSE question asks students to report the extent to which their exams have challenged them to do their best work.  For this question a score of five or higher on a seven-point Likert-scale indicates significant challenge.[5] In 2019, over 90% of LSSSE respondents indicated they were being challenged by exams in class. 

Taken together, this LSSSE data indicate that teachers are demanding a lot of their students, meeting Stuckey’s first suggestion to have high expectations. Students are also working hard and producing their best work to meet the challenges their professors put before them.

Foster a Supportive Environment

Creating a positive and supportive learning environment is critical to student success.[6]  A key component to this is student-faculty interaction – the ways and frequency with which faculty connect and interact with students in and out of the classroom.  Law students report overwhelmingly positive relationships with faculty.  In 2019, over three-fourths (76%) of students reported strong positive relationships with faculty.[7] Furthermore, 91% believed their instructors care about their learning and success in law school and 82% considered at least one instructor a mentor whom they could approach for advice or guidance.

Thus, faculty are creating supportive environments in class and effectively conveying their support to students.[8]

Encourage Collaboration

Teamwork and collaboration also are critical to student learning and the development of important professional skills for effective lawyering.[9]  It is important for students to engage with both faculty and classmates. Though students report positive relationships with faculty, LSSSE data reveal that law students are not collaborating with faculty as often as they could. A majority of students work with faculty on activities other than coursework, although a full 46% never do so.  Even more troubling, almost a quarter (23%) of law students report never having conversations with faculty outside of class. 

Surprisingly, students work with peers at even lower rates than they collaborate with faculty.  Only a quarter (24%) of law students report frequently[10] working with students on projects during class. One-third (33%) frequently work with classmates outside of class, again showing room for improvement.

When considering best practices in legal education, there is much to learn from Stuckey’s suggestions. And faculty have learned! LSSSE data reveal that students are working hard to meet their professors’ high expectations. Faculty also are succeeding in fostering a supportive classroom environment, as measured by overwhelmingly positive student-faculty interactions. However, professors can do more to promote teamwork and collaboration both inside and outside of class and both with students and amongst students themselves.


[1] More information on LSSSE is available at: https://lssse.indiana.edu/.

[2] To participate in the LSSSE survey, please contact the authors of this post or visit: https://lssse.indiana.edu/register.

[3] For instance, LSSSE Reports have shared trends regarding Diversity & Exclusion, The Cost of Women’s Success, and the ways in which Relationships Matter. For more information on LSSSE Reports, see https://lssse.indiana.edu/annual-results.

[4] This frequency includes respondents choosing “Very often” or “Often”.  

[5] Response options for this question range from 1 (“Very little”) to  7 (“Very much”).

[6] Stuckey, R. T. (2007). Best practices for legal education: A vision and a road map. Clinical Legal Education Association. P.87; Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin, 3, 7.; Wawrose, Susan, A More Human Place: Using Core Counseling Skills to Transform Faculty-Student Relationships (May 1, 2019). 55 Willamette L. Rev. 133 (2018), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3088008 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3088008

[7] These strong positive relationships are represented by a score of five or higher on a seven-point Likert scale.

[8] Women of color faculty, who typically carry more of the student services load than their colleagues, should be recognized for this work as it has clear implications for student outcomes and institutional success. Meera E. Deo, Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia (2019).

[9] Hamilton, N. W. (2014). Empirical research on the core competencies needed to practice law: WHAT do clients, new lawyers, and legal employers tell us?. The Bar Examiner, September, 14-34; Hamilton, N. W. (2019). Fostering and Assessing Law Student Teamwork and Team Leadership Skills. Hofstra Law Review, Forthcoming.

[10] This frequency includes respondents choosing “Very often” or “Often”.

%d bloggers like this: