Sunday, July 14, 2013

How Would Law Schools Implement a 15-Credit Experiential Requirement in the Second and Third Years?

We have had several posts over the last couple of weeks concerning CLEA's petition to the ABA to require 15 hours of experiential courses in the second and third years.  If this proposal were adopted, how would law schools implement it?

First, there are lots of different ways to implement this proposal; just because I am concentrating on the approach below does not mean that I think there are not other equally viable options.  Second, legal education reform involves more than just adding 15 hours of skills courses.  Our teaching approaches in other classes need to change, too.  For example, I advocate that all first-year doctrinal classes include a significant problem-solving element to help prepare students for experiential courses in their second and third years.

Law schools should offer law students a variety of choices of experiential courses, just like they offer a variety of advanced doctrinal courses.  Just as most law schools already do with doctrinal courses, students should have different choices of tracks (specialties) that include both doctrinal and experiential classes.  At the least, law schools should offer both a litigation and a transactional track.  Other specialties could involve family law, corporate law, international law, estates, etc.

An important element of any experiential program would be clinics.  The ABA should require that every student complete at least one clinic before they graduate.  While most clinics today are litigation oriented, there is no reason that there couldn't be transactional clinics, family law clinics, estate planning clinics, etc.

Experiential classes do not have to be limited to the old standards of trial practice and contract drafting.  For example, a professor could combine products liability and discovery practice or teach a bankruptcy course that teaches students how to write the major bankruptcy documents.  (It takes a deep understanding of bankruptcy doctrine to be able to write bankruptcy documents.)

Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers has a page on its website that shows in detail how creative law professors have combined doctrine with skills.  Among the second- and third-year courses discussed on the site are:

Health and Elder Law Medical Legal Partnership by JoNel Newman and Melissa Swain

Advanced Advocacy: Legislative Policy by Jean Whitney

International Business Negotiations by Jay Gary Finkelstein and Daniel D. Bradlow

 White Collar Crime in Practice by Wes Reber Porter

The Legal Profession by William D. Henderson

Copyright Law by Michael Madison

Professional Responsibility by Lawrence G. Marshall

State Civil Procedure by Benjamin Madison

Family Law with Skills by Andrew Schepard

Labor Relations Law by Roberto L. Corrada

Advanced Contracts by Gillian K. Hadfield

It is an exciting time for legal education.  We need to reject past practices that are ineffective and adopt the latest educational techniques, which are well-supported by general legal education research. (here)  Our students deserve our efforts, and so does the public, which relies so heavily on competent attorneys.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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