Monday, August 1, 2016
This year, I am serving on my law school’s curriculum committee, outcomes assessment task force and our self-study committee for an upcoming ABA site visit. These posts involve many of the most pressing questions of the day in legal education, and they intersect often with clinical and experiential learning.
For these reasons, I was very happy and a bit intimidated to receive an invitation from the Journal of Legal Education to review Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World, edited by Deborah Maranville. Lisa Radtke Bliss, Carolyn Wilkes Kass, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, and written by many others. I have the privilege of friendship and collaboration with many of these authors and editors, and they are doing innovative, wise work on the hardest issues of our enterprise. Their work and insight hit home.
Please read and use the book; it will make our law schools better. It will make us better teachers and scholars and will promote better outcomes for the students who trust us. It takes its place within the canon of legal education theory and practice, from McCrate to Carnegie to the original Best Practices. It is not the destination of our work, but it is a useful, important stop along the way.
Here is an excerpt from my review, available on SSRN here and at 65 J. Legal Educ. 988 (2016).
Building on Best Practices charts the path for institutional and curricular reform within the prevailing structure of outcomes assessment. Like the refined demands of new ABA accreditation standards, Building on Best Practices draws from the trend toward objective measurement of identifiable goals. Institutional assessment follows a constructive, progressive cycle: identifying outcomes and goals, developing means to measure progress toward those goals, measuring performance in light of the desired outcomes, evaluating results, and developing and implementing changes, before starting again.
Thus, rather than evaluating a school based on its inputs, like the metrics of an incoming class, the library budget, or faculty research assistance, a school should measure its success based on how well it achieves the goals it sets for itself. Building on Best Practices proposes this process as the means to strengthen and improve the enterprise of legal education. Each law school must reckon what it wants to be in a topsy-turvy environment, then mark out a course to achieve it well within its own contexts and markets. It is not enough for schools to add or remove programs, to build a space, or to invest in a class with higher entrance metrics. Instead, schools must be able to articulate why they should do those things, to have a clear purpose for making the moves they make, and to use good tools to determine whether they work.