Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Legal education has faced much criticism in recent years. That criticism has largely focused on law schools’ failure to prepare students for the practice of law. Critics have thus urged law schools to establish learning outcomes aimed at teaching students how to become practice-ready professionals and have called for the adoption of effective assessment tools to evaluate and improve student learning.
While slow to respond to the call for reform, last August, the American Bar Association adopted new accreditation standards on learning outcomes and assessment measures. The adoption of these standards represents a shift in legal education — a shift from educational inputs to learning outputs. In other words, the new standards now require law schools to shift from teaching students how to think like lawyers toward assessing whether students are in fact learning how to be lawyers.
This Article examines the new ABA standards on learning outcomes and assessment and their potential impact on reforming legal education. The Article argues law schools should embrace the new standards as a valuable method to reflect, evaluate, and improve legal education in their quest to producing practice-ready professionals. And through the lens of a course developed to teach professional communication skills to law students, the Article illustrates how law schools can engage in small-scale experimentation of articulating learning outcomes and utilizing assessment tools, at the individual course level, all the while focusing on the central purpose of assessment — the improvement of student learning.