Tuesday, July 18, 2017
This blog post is the second in a two-part series detailing my takeaways from the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s “Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills” conference which was held in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 7-8, 2017. For part one of the series, click here.
Professor Andrew Henderson from the University of Canberra in Australia discussed “The Importance of Teaching Self-Evaluation and Reflection in Law School,” especially in an ethics course. One study revealed that when presented with an ethical dilemma, law students tend to resolve the dilemma consistent with their personal beliefs and without regard for the professional rule of conduct. The students answered the same question the same way before taking an ethics course, while taking the course, and after successfully completing the course. In other words, professional responsibility courses do little to teach ethical judgment makings skills. Knowing this, Professor Henderson sought to design a course that would reframe the discussion entirely He required students to identify their internal motivations, such as what makes them get up in the morning, what keeps them awake at night, why do they want to be a lawyer. He then used the students’ responses as a means to jumpstart a conversation and to identify the intersection between the students’ self-identified motivations and the ethical rules. He reported that students have become more engaged in the ethics course and that the student responses have also helped to provide more targeted academic advising and job placement advice. At the end of the discussion, a few attendees discussed how a similar exercise could be added to the start of the 1L year to assist academic support professors in providing more tailored advice to at risk students.
Professor Benjamin Madison of Regent University School of Law and his colleagues developed a course to “Help Millennials Develop Self-Reflection.” The mandatory 1L class focuses on the development of problem solving skills, emotional intelligence, responsibility, and “other” ABA mandated skills. To begin, students get to request a specific faculty coach. The school makes every effort, but does not guarantee, to match students with their top choice. Next, students meet with their designated faculty coach to complete an intake self-assessment or “roadmap.” After the student self-assesses him/herself, the student is assessed on those same skills by two of their peers. Professor Madison has already noted several trends at his school. First, 1L students frequently rate themselves quite high (i.e. mastery level) despite having little to no professional development training, and students rate their peers even higher. Essentially students “don’t know what they don’t know.” This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Kruger-Dunning effect in psychological circles. Second, students gravitate toward those peers who unequivocally support them, rather than peers who challenge them and hold them accountable. Lastly, students are more concerned about obtaining meaningful employment than making a sufficient income, which is especially intriguing when you consider internal motivation as a component of self-refection. (As an aside, their research concluded that the primary professional goal for 1L students is to pass the bar exam – whew!). Professor Madison said that if other schools are interested in adopting a similar program, they should reach out to the St. Thomas School of Law Holloran Center, which “continues to focus on its mission to help the next generation form professional identifies with a moral core of responsibility and strive to others.”
Professor Christine Church of Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School Immerses Students in Lawyering Skills. Her nine credit program is centered on all-day classes that simulate a law practice environment. During the 14-week semester, four distinct four-person law firms handle three cases: (1) a custody battle requiring intense interviewing, counseling, and negotiation skills, (2) a personal injury suit involving pretrial litigation skills, and (3) a DUI criminal trial. The clients are actually other law students who are completing a 1-credit directed study, relying on the principles discussed in the book “Through the Client’s Eyes” for guidance. The “attorneys” within each firm exchange documents throughout the week using Google Docs and then meet on Saturdays to engage in simulation exercises. Professor Church commented that the unique course schedule—which is ABA Standard 310 compliant—has helped students to develop the stamina needed to study for the bar exam and actually practice law on a daily basis. The program now has a waitlist; students love it! She concluded the session by sharing a plethora of fact patterns, grading rubrics, and syllabi to assist participants in establishing their own litigation skills immersion program.
After Professor Church’s session, I enjoyed a tasty Greek salad lunch. In my view, a good indicator of the quality of a conference is the quality of the breaks. ILTL did not disappoint. Not only was the host school welcoming and attentive, but all the attendees were more than willing to offer helpful suggestions at every turn—well beyond the theme of the conference. Many thanks to those who shared teaching tips, performance review and tenure advice, and general support to this junior faculty member. And, let me extend a special shout out to one colleague’s pet squirrel!
Before I wrap-up, let me share the most bizarre tidbit I heard while in Little Rock. One professor explained that one of her students genuinely believes that some version of the following conversation occurs routinely at her law school—Professor A to Professor B: “When Mary comes to your office to discuss her exam, tell her that her poor grade is due to an underdeveloped rule block. And, when you meet with John, tell him that he needs to work on his application. That’s what we’re all going with this semester.” The student came to this epiphany after every single one of her professors targeted the same exact exam skill for improvement. Feel free to insert the emoji of your choice here.
I wish I could tell you about all the concurrent sessions, but unfortunately my J.K. Rowling approved Time-Turner is not TSA approved. I heard chatter in the hallway suggesting that I missed several good sessions, but as author Ashim Shanker has noted, “freedom brings with it the burden of choice and of its consequences.” For those who are interested in learning more about the other sessions or about the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s larger mission, checkout the Institute’s webpage. (Kirsha Trychta)