February 26, 2010
Do the ABA Accreditation "Student Learning Outcome" Measures Befuddle the Legal Academy?
According to Karen Sloan in her NLJ article entitled Holding schools accountable, "[t]he proposed [learning outcome accreditation] standards would help solidify a philosophical shift that is taking place throughout legal education that emphasizes the responsibility of law schools to teach students to be lawyers, not just to think like them." Think like who? Practicing lawyers or law profs? Theses plenty of literature pointing to the "think like law profs" answer. It might be confirmed by Sloan's article. She writes
Perhaps the thorniest question the ABA and law school administrators now face is how to identify the skills law students should have upon graduation and to decide how specific the new standards should be in requiring the achievement and measurement of those skills.
They Don't Know What Skills? Don't look to the typical law prof for an answer to the What Skills? question. It's probably beyond their comprehension. Might be time to hand over the administration of the legal academy to legal skills profs, clinicians and adjuncts. Weren't those the sort of folks who replaced the apprenticeship model with more rigorous instruction in how to enter the profession in the first place?
Time to Return to the Litchfield Model? It might be time to return to the days when Litchfield Law School was considered the "top ranked" law school in the country and Harvard Law School was an also ran on the brink of closing, only saved from utter extinction by HLS hiring Joseph Story. While being fairly creative in his Commentaries, Justice Story still knew what it took to practice law. Returning to a professinal education model is do-able if one hellva lot of tenured law profs are sent to the breadlines to stand alone-side unemployed law school grads.
There are law school deans who say privately but not publicly that it's time to "re-think the whole tenure thing" in the legal academy. Good luck with that. The biggest obstacle to re-inventing law schools as a place where students learn to practice a profession is the legal academy's own workforce.
Bottom Line: Student learning outcome measures, more lip service than anything else. For more, see The "Long Walk" to Learning Outcomes Standard: Discussion Draft of ABA's Assessment of Learning Outcomes Standard Fundamentally Flawed in External Assessment Metrics. [JH]