Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hybrid Courses and Focused Field Placements

In recent years, the community of clinical legal educators have been imagining courses beyond the classic categories of clinics and externships.  Live-client clinics and field placements are the pillars of experiential learning in law schools.   For pedagogical, curricular, political and institutional reasons, we continue to emphasize these forms as the best, fundamental ways to advance professional formation among our students.  For market reasons, though, we need to consider other forms, hybrid courses and other structures, to accommodate increasing demands for experiential education in eras of relative austerity. 

(The 2013 AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education was devoted to this theme, and its materials and speakers were rich with ideas.)

In my experience, especially at Pepperdine, the greatest need for hybrid programs has been to take advantage of opportunities and ideas that arose without a clear identity as clinic or externship.    We have needed to be nimble when someone approaches us with a good idea that may not justify the outlay and hiring lines necessary of a full-fledged clinic but which require more structure and oversight than a new field placement.    To meet these ends, we have established a third species of course (and are experimenting with others).   Practicum courses are courses that combine specialized field placements with a greater measure of faculty oversight and substantive training for students in their field work. 

In the Fall, we will offer two practicum classes.  

In the Criminal Justice Dispute Resolution Practicum, in conjunction with our Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, students work with an adjunct, expert practitioner to learn methods and practices for peacemaking and dispute resolution.    The students’ training will be in an intensive weekend at the beginning of the term.   Then, during the semester, the students will go with their instructor to L.A. County Jail facilities to teach and coach people in detention about these skills.  This is a collaboration with Prison of Peace, and the justice goal is to equip inmates with skills and experience in dispute resolution, negotiation, peacemaking and conflict management, to reduce recidivism and promote better outcomes, in and after prison.   The pedagogical goals are to advance students’ skills and wisdom in dispute resolution, understanding and knowledge of the criminal justice and “corrections” systems, cultural competence, compassionate communication, and engagement with social issues in a demanding environment. 

We will also offer the Federal Criminal Practice Practicum, in which students will rotate during a single term through the United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defender’s Office, and U.S. District Court.   This is the initiative of U.S. District Judge Beverly O’Connell who approached me with the idea in the fall of 2013.   She perceived a need and opportunity for students to receive a broad spectrum view of the criminal justice system and helped make introductions with the other offices.   In the inaugural term, two 3Ls will rotate through each placement, where they must complete a substantive writing project in the service of the respective offices while working and observing the work of the lawyers from each perspective.   Further, a member of our doctrinal faculty who specializes in criminal law and who once was a prosecutor will provide regular faculty advising for the course.   

In both instances, we are able to provide intensive, meaningful experiences for students, with rigorous oversight, without breaking the budget, and without invading capital (political, financial and otherwise) that we are investing in live-client clinics and traditional externships.  

In the comments or offline, please share your innovations and initiatives that your schools are contemplating to bridge gaps between demand and resources.   We can all benefit from new ideas in our new economy.        


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