Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reforming the Law School Curriculum from the Top Down

Reforming the Law School Curriculum from the Top Down by R. Michael Cassidy.


"With growing consensus that legal education is in turmoil if not in crisis, law schools need to take advantage of industry upheaval to catalyze innovation in the way they train their students.  Curriculum reform, long the “third rail” of faculty politics, is now essential if some law schools are going to survive the present tsunami of low enrollments and stagnant hiring.  One cautiously optimistic note within this doomsday symphony is that law school deans are now in extremely strong bargaining positions with their faculties and boards of trustees with respect to curriculum innovation.

In this essay, the author proposes a pivotal reform to the third year curriculum involving team-taught “Advanced Legal Problem Solving” workshops in subject specific areas, and describes the precise structure, content and staffing of such capstone courses.  He argues that such workshops would significantly enhance the preparation of law students for entry into the profession, and would create an efficient and cost-effective route for law schools to satisfy rigorous new ABA accreditation standards regarding experiential learning and outcomes assessment."

"The primary benefit of these subject-specific ALPS is that they would begin to model and impart reflective judgment for our students in a problem solving context. Practical skills and judgment are the two competencies seasoned professionals most often find lacking in law school graduates. The law is a skills-based, service-oriented profession. A Ph.D. student in English can learn about Emily Dickinson by studying her poetry, taking classes on the subject from erudite and thoughtful scholars, and talking to other graduate students about her work and her technique. But you cannot develop the rudimentary skills of a gymnast by talking about gymnastics and watching others do it. At some point, you need to mount the balance beam or uneven bars and try it yourself, hopefully with a seasoned coach nearby to dissect your performance and break your fall. The practice of law is more like gymnastics that than it is like poetry, and the sooner we recognize this critical difference the better off our students will be."

(Scott Fruehwald)


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