Sunday, June 30, 2013

Architect of Washington & Lee's 3L experiential learning curriculum says don't judge it based on last year's employment stats

A couple of weeks ago, Professor Deborah Merritt at her Law School Cafe blog (and here) crunched the numbers for the class of 2012 at Washington & Lee and concluded that despite curricular reform that has been roundly praised for making students more "practice ready," the employment stats for graduating students were significantly below those of schools ranked similarly by USNWR.  Professor Merritt offered several possible explanations but ultimately concluded that making students practice ready doesn't equate with more jobs.  Our own Scott Fruehwald offered an alternative explanation for the sub-par employment results here.

Now comes Washington & Lee's Professor James Moliterno, described in his faculty bio as one of the leaders behind the school's 3L curricular reform, who says in a response posted on the Law School Cafe blog that it's simply too early to judge the success of the program based on employment outcomes for a single year. 

The 2012 numbers refer to the first full class to pass through the reformed third year curriculum. Ours is a slow-to-change profession. Employers as a group do not change their settled practices on a dime. Nothing in the employment numbers that we see for the next 3 to five years should be seen as reflecting on the reception given to the curriculum reform. No curricular reform I know of, including Langdell’s, changed settled practices of others overnight.

We are confident in the reform and the value it adds to our students. The reform has become reasonably well-known within legal education, but we have considerable work yet to do to make it known and understood to the employing-branch of the legal profession.

The education a W&L student receives today is more rigorous than was the education received by their predecessors. The first year, with added requirements of administrative law and transnational law and professional responsibility, continues to be taught with the techniques and materials that have made the first year a legal education success story. The second year, too, is largely unchanged in its methodology. But in the reformed third year, students are challenged in ways they are not challenged in the traditional third year. Students must study and adopt the analytical practices of sophisticated lawyers. They must write more than their predecessors in the traditional third year. They must problem solve more. They must work as teams. They must progress in the mastery of the complex mental processes of sophisticated lawyers. The data gathered by the Law Student Survey of Student Engagement shows that our third year students are more actively involved in their education than both their W&L predecessors and current students at our peer schools.

Continue reading here.


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