Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Reply to a Paul Campos Correspondent

Yesterday, Paul Campos had a post on his blog concerning a letter he had received from a law professor about an e-mail that professor had received from a former student, who was now a lawyer.  The professor had requested feedback from the former student.  Among other things, the former student/lawyer said:

" For reasons that baffle me, law school only provides meaningful feedback through one final exam at the end of the year.  What's worse is that this feedback is basically limited to a mysterious grade that, from the student's perspective, has no clear relationship to the student's performance. . . .  This is basically a high-risk/high-reward one shot opportunity to prove what you know.  For students like me, who learn through hands-on practice, I feel like this system failed me."

He continued:

"Students generally go to law school to get a job.  Law professors, in contrast, are quite academic.  Law school felt incredibly divorced from the real world practice of law - which is why people say that law school won't teach you how to practice law, and why the bar exam is an additional requirement to law practice that is very different from law school.  I would generally try to move your class into a more vocational style to address the real interests and goals of your students."

He concluded:

"As a last general point, I am not an expert on education, either academic or vocational, nor am I an expert on learning.  There is an absolutely gigantic literature on how students, esp. grade school or high school students, really learn. . . .  As far as I know, the typical law professors has zero exposure to this scientific literature. . . .  If I was a law professor genuinely interested in my students learning, and doing well in an objective sense (not just on a curve), then I would not only expose myself to this literature, but I would master it, and apply the techniques that distinguish the best teachers from the mediocre teachers."

I have good news for Campos's correspondent.  Although they are still in the minority, there are many legal educators who are applying the latest education research to their teaching.  A number of law professors have applied these techniques to their courses, and they have published portfolios for their courses on the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers website.  (here)  ETL also has a list of over twenty law schools that are committed to legal education innovation.  (here)  Moreover, the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning has yearly conferences on education reform and innovative teaching techniques.

There are also many scholarly articles on legal education reform and incorporating new techniques into law school classes.  Many of these articles are on assessment reform.  I have summarized these reforms and innovations in my article, How to Become an Expert Law Teacher by Understanding the Neurobiology of Learning.  Finally, several recent casebooks incorporate new teaching techniques.  (here and here)  

 As you can see, a great deal is happening in legal education reform.  Practicing attorneys can help, too.  You can let your law school know that you support legal education reform and you want your law school to graduate practice-ready attorneys.  Most importantly, you can hire your new attorneys from law schools that produce graduates who have more practical training.  (again, here)

(Scott Fruehwald

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