Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Study showing UNH Law School's experiential program successfully trains practice ready grads

(Now updated with linkage to the full report) My co-blogger Scott Fruehwald reported last month on a forthcoming study from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System that found UNH Law School's Daniel Webster Scholar Program has proven to be successful in turning out law grads who can outperform second year attorneys on several tasks measured by the study including client interviewing, taking depositions and drafting motions and interrogatories.  The Daniel Webster Scholar Program is a two year program that trains aspiring litigators beginning in the second year of law school.  The IAALS study compared the standardized client-interview assessments of 123 lawyers who didn’t graduate from the program with the assessments of 69 of the honors students. Daniel Webster scholars scored an average of 3.76 out of 5, compared with an average of 3.11 for the lawyers. The study's authors said that "the difference is large and statistically significant."  The full study will be released shortly (now available here) but for now we've got the Executive Summary below (we'll update this post with a link to the full report once it's available online). 

Ahead of the Curve: Turning Law Students Into Lawyers

A Study of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program at the University of New Hampshire School of Law


Executive Summary

In recent years, law schools have been the subject of great scrutiny—by media, by the profession, by law students, and even by legal educators within the schools—about the quality of legal education and training they offer students who will graduate to become tomorrow’s lawyers. There may be disagreement about the severity of the problem and the solutions to the problem, but there can hardly be disagreement that the increasing focus on the quality of legal education is creating more opportunities than ever for innovation in law schools and for building partnerships with the profession to develop improved models of legal education.


When New Hampshire’s law school teamed up with the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the New Hampshire Board of Bar Examiners over a decade ago, a unique program was born. The Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program at the University of New Hampshire provides a combination of training and assessment over a two-year period that serves as a variant to the two-day bar examination—simply stated, students who participate in the program are evaluated for bar admission based on their performance over a two-year period and do not sit for the traditional bar examination.


But, the success of the program lies not in its relationship to the bar exam. Rather, the success of the program lies in the fact that, on some measures, the students are actually better prepared for the practice of law. The combination of formative and reflective assessment administered in a practice-based context appears to produce better outcomes for students, which ultimately translates to better prepared lawyers.


The two-year program, beginning in the second year of law school, works within a proscribed curriculum that immerses students in experience-based learning settings, and both provides and demands formative, reflective, and summative assessment. The ultimate assessment comes, of course, at the end of the program when student participants are reviewed for bar admission based on their performance over the course of two years.


From the outside, the program seems to have all the right elements for success, but is it actually doing a better job of preparing lawyers for practice and clients? To find out, IAALS worked with an evaluation consulting firm to conduct quantitative and qualitative analysis of existing research to evaluate outcomes of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program. Notably, we learned:


  • In focus groups, members of the profession and alumni said they believe that students who graduate from the program are a step ahead of new law school graduates;
  • When evaluated based on standardized client interviews, students in the program     outperformed lawyers who had been admitted to practice within the last two years; and
  • The only significant predictor of standardized client interview performance was     whether or not the interviewer participated in the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors     Program. Neither LSAT scores nor class rank was significantly predictive of interview performance.

 Based on our evaluation, we believe other schools, educators, and jurisdictions can learn from the success of the program. While aspects of the program may be difficult to replicate in larger jurisdictions, full-scale replication is not the only option for schools looking to build upon the success of the program. IAALS believes the program can be unbundled into the key elements—most notably, the combination of formative and reflective assessment in a practice-based context and a focus on collaboration between the academy and the profession. Part of the genius of the program was its collaborative roots. Together, practicing lawyers and law schools can innovate effectively.


The Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program is ahead of the curve in graduating new lawyers ready to venture into the profession—and others can learn from its success.


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