Monday, September 24, 2012
The meat of Reforming Legal Education: Law Schools at the Crossroads is the description of legal education reform at various law schools. These law schools include Washington & Lee, Washburn, Iowa, Nova Southeastern, Golden Gate, Charlotte, and Western State. Each chapter presents the history of the law school, the prereform curriculum, the reform process, and lessons learned. Most chapters have extensive appendices that include documents from the reform process, lists of outcome evaluations, list of skills to be learned, grading rubrics, curriculum reform charts, etc.
Each program emphasizes a different approach to curriculum reform. For example, Washington & Lee has completely reformed its third year by making it entirely experiential (simulations and practice experiences). Charlotte has created an outcomes-based curriculum, and Nova Southeastern has used a "curriculum map" to determine whether its students are learning the skills necessary for practice. Among other reforms, Western State has created two "signature" programs, the Criminal Law Practice Center and the Business Law Center. Another innovation at Western State is "embedded assessment"–"the process of analyzing student work that is already part of existing course work for purposes of program assessment."
There are several important lessons to be learned from this book. First, legal education reform can meet a great deal of resistence, and those advocating reform need to get buy-in from key faculty members. Second, reforms should be based on how adult students learn. Third, law schools should teach their students to be self-directed and reflective learners. Fourth, students learn best when they are able to apply doctrine through experiential learning. Fifth, education reform should be data driven. Finally, legal education reform can work if the faculty is committed to it.
I believe that the Washburn chapter by Michael Hunter Schwartz and Jeremiah A. Ho best states the proper focus of legal education reform: "Whatever the committee discuses should be evaluated by the single criterion of whether the idea will be good for the students as they prepare to become lawyers. The way things currently are or what individual faculty members or groups of faculty members want to do or already do cannot be as important as serving our students’ needs." We owe it to our students to put their needs first.