Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dean Nancy B. Rapoport on Legal Education Reform

Dean Nancy B. Rapoport has recently posted an important article on legal education reform on SSRN:

Rethinking U.S. Legal Education: No More 'Same Old, Same Old'.

Abstract: "In this Essay, I suggest that we should think about how to create a curriculum that encourages students to develop a variety of skill sets. Law students simply don’t need three years of Socratic questioning regarding the fine details of court opinions. They need a wide range of experiences, preferably building on skill sets (like the twenty-six Berkeley factors) that effective lawyers have developed. A law school’s curriculum should have courses that focus on different factors in each year of law school. Ultimately, what we should be teaching law students is how to develop the judgment to advise clients. Teaching students how to think about the law is no longer – and probably never was – enough."

Other key points:

"What distinguishes good lawyering from mechanical lawyering is thoughtful, flexible, and comprehensive deliberation. Identifying relevant issues involves much more than legal analysis. It requires coming to grips with the complexity of real-life situations psychologically and sociologically as well as legally. An overarching, pedagogical goal of law school should be facilitating the cognitive and emotional development of students in ways that provide them with a sufficient foundation to become lawyers who, in pursuing their profession, are able to analyze problems in full context, which includes recognizing both patterns and uniqueness in different situations and knowing how to synthesize, prioritize, and apply appropriate breadth and depth of knowledge. Learning about law is pivotal, but it is not sufficient. The mindset needed entails being adept at drawing on knowledge from multiple sources and looking at problems from plural perspectives. It is the mindset of the fox."

"But on the theory that drastic change will take years, there is one thing that law schools could do right now to improve legal education: law schools could take a good, hard look at creating deliberate building blocks of skill sets."

"I know nothing about educational theory, so I don’t know if knowing any would help us teach better. All I know is that not knowing any means that we’re guessing about whether we’re teaching things in a way that enables students to master the material."

Comment: This has been a considerable amount of material written over the last thirty years on how students learn.  This material is very helpful in understanding how we should be teaching students in law school.  The fundamental principle is that active learning is vastly superior to passive learning.  This scholarship has been summarized into several easily-readable books.  The two best of these books are Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School (2009) and Susan Ambrose, How Learning Works (2010).  Anyone interested in legal education reform needs to read these books.

"I believe that each year of law school should focus on different building blocks, so that a law student’s progression from the first semester to the last semester represents distinct skill sets rather than a replication of the skill sets taught in the first year."

(Scott Fruehwald)

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