Thursday, December 28, 2017

How student course selection decisions affect the clinical educational experience

A new article by Professor Deborah Archer (New York Law School) explores how student decisions about which clinical courses to enroll in and whether their interests and goals match those of the courses in question can affect the overall educational experience.  Professor Archer's article is called Open to Justice: The Importance of Student Selection Decisions in Law School Clinics and is available at 24 Clinical L. Rev. 1 (2017) and on SSRN here. From the abstract:

Clinical law professors have engaged in a significant amount of reflection and evaluation of the importance of clinic design, pedagogy, supervision styles, client selection, and case selection, but very little has been written about the significant impact student selection decisions have on the clinical experience and how clinical law professors should assess the applications of students whose fundamental values diverge from those of the clinic. A successful clinical experience is not just about what we are teaching or how we are teaching. Important issues arise when we think about who we are teaching and the context in which we are teaching them. The experiences, perspectives, and attitudes of the students are critical components of any clinical program. Student selection decisions impact the ability to meet the myriad goals of a clinical program, including the educational experience of the other students participating in the program and the quality of representation afforded to clients of that clinic. Our decisions about which students we admit or exclude from a particular clinic raise issues about clinical law professors’ educational obligation to our students and our representational obligations to the clients of the clinic.

As clinical legal education plays an increasing role in legal education, with a broader range of clinical offerings and intensified student interest, we must give greater consideration to the criteria we use to admit students into clinical programs and attend to the risks that divergence of student, clinic, and client values can create. Certainly, some clinical law professors do not believe that law schools should engage in any individualized student selection decisions, and instead encourage open enrollment in clinical programs. However, where student selection models are employed, it should be done with all of a clinic’s goals in mind, rather than isolating the singular goal of providing an opportunity for experiential learning. This essay endeavors to identify some of the challenges clinical law professors face in making student selection determinations that balance the multiple goals of clinical education.


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