Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reforming the Third Year of Law School

I have posted several times about the innovative third-year program at Washington and Lee. (e.g., here)  Three faculty members at Washington& Lee, Lyman Johnson, Robert T. Danforth, and David Millon, have recently posted an artticle, Reforming the Third Year of Law School, which describes this program in detail.

Abstract: In early 2008, Washington and Lee fundamentally reformed the entire third year law school curriculum. The new curriculum broke with decades-long tradition by focusing entirely on student-centered, experiential learning. It also sharply distinguished the educational approach in the third year from that in the first and second years, thereby creating a strong sense of pedagogical progression. Finally, it more deliberately prepared students for the transition to practice and emphasized the importance of attending to the formation of a professional identity.

This article, a chapter in a new book − Reforming Legal Education (D. Moss & D. Curtis, eds., 2012) – describes in detail the substantive curricular changes made at Washington and Lee. But it also describes more process-oriented factors that are critical to successful curricular reform such as aligning proposed changes with a school’s or university’s larger strategic objectives so as to achieve true institutional “fit.” We also describe the importance of thoughtful implementation of reform, after adoption, through a phased-in “roll out” process. Finally, we relate how our curricular changes included, from the outset, a mandated mechanism for post-adoption assessment on an ongoing basis. Assurance of expected regular occasions for revisiting curricular reform can itself facilitate change and overcome initial resistance.

(Scott Fruehwald


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