Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reflections at Year's End: Looking Forward

As 2015 comes to a close, we can see many advances in legal education this year, such as more experiential courses, the use of flipped courses, and new requirements by state bars. However, rather than focusing on the past, I would like to look ahead to what legal education needs to achieve in 2016 and beyond.

First, law professors need to draw more on general educational research. There is a wealth of material on how students learn, and legal educators need to use it. I posted a summary of this research last week here, based on an article by Professor Carol Chomsky. The key point–students retain more with active learning and frequent formative assessment.

Second, using this research, law professors need to change their approach to teaching first-year courses. While professors should continue to use the Socratic method, they need to add other approaches to their repertoire, particular the frequent use of problem-solving exercises, drafting exercises, and formative assessment. Last summer, I wrote a post on improving first-year teaching, which was published by the Harvard Law School Case Studies.

Third, it is time that all law schools help their students develop their professional identities. Teaching law students the ethical rules and how to apply them is not enough. Law students need to learn how to use practical wisdom so that they can deal with situations that are not covered by the rules. Law schools should be turning out true professionals, not just lawyers who follow the rules because they have to. I propose that all law schools teach a class in professional identity or expand their present course on professional responsibility to include significant training in professional identity.

Fourth, while I see a great expansion in the number of experiential courses being offered, I would like to see a greater variety of courses. Why not offer a course on discovery (as Denver does) or combine family law with practical training (as a few law schools do). Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers has a page on how to integrate experiential learning into substantive courses (ETL Course Portfolios). These course portfolios cover family law, administrative law, property, evidence, tax, etc.

Finally, I hope that all law professors will read about new teaching approaches in 2016. The best general book is Susan A. Ambrose, How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (2010). This book is a very easy read. In the legal area are the books co-authored by Michael Hunter Schwartz (here). Useful articles include my article How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Succeed in Law School, What’s Your Problem? by Kathy Vinson, and Casebooks and The Future of Contracts Pedagogy by Carol Chomsky.

Happy New Year!

(Scott Fruehwald)

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