Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Luke Bierman on Change in Legal Education

The PrawfsBlawg is continuing its symposium on Mike Madison's For a New Year: An Invitation Regarding Law, Legal Education, and Imagining the Future.  There have been five contributions so far.

In his contribution, Dean Bierman says this concerning change in legal education:

"What there may be, however, is a shortage of action, or at least action resulting in more fundamental change. While even a quick perusal of viewbooks and websites and the dreaded 'lawporn' that descends upon USN&WR voters each fall reveals much discussion of action masquerading as innovation in legal education, it is unclear that we collectively are undertaking little more than what Professor Madison might characterize as silos in action. Much of that action refers to innovation through a new clinic or a new program that may offer a version of something new but does not really get to the fundamental aspects of teaching and learning and preparing students to practice. The 1L year looks pretty much like it did when I started law school almost 40 years ago, let alone when my dad started law school almost 70 years ago or my grandfather almost 100 years ago. Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure and the rest taught in large sections with some legal writing thrown in remain the constant. 2L offers some opportunity for practical experiences with a few credits for clinical classes or moot court and 3L continues as an amalgam of electives while looking for a job.

This aversion to serious action addressing the critiques of contemporary legal education that are bandied about is understandable if not lamentable. . . .  Are we preparing lawyers capable of serving clients or are we educating for something else?"

He continues,

"This conundrum reflects the technological advancements of the information age over the past generation whereby legal information now is readily available to the masses, no longer limited to the confines of law libraries. This trend means that law schools must do more than transfer 'the law' from one generation of teachers to another generation of students aspiring to be lawyers. Our task as legal educators now must be different, teaching use of the law, or what may be characterized as judgment. Not all agree, of course, and so goes the conundrum, well described by Jerry Organ’s first post in this symposium."  (emphasis added)

"Assuming that at least some of us adopt the perspective that our job as law teachers is changing due to this fundamental generational shift, then a call to action is apt. But action to what? Surely this action cannot mean doing more of the same, by just adding that extra clinic or another institute. Rather our direction must be guided by more fundamental adjustments in our curriculum so that we can affect positively the preparation of our students to be lawyers and not just knowers of 'the law.' To accomplish this task, we must act in ways that will accelerate our students’ professional maturation. We must have them work not like the law students we were bellowing our newly learned rules of law but rather like the lawyers they wish to become."

I (and I suspect most of our readers) agree with Dean Bierman.  Changes at the fringes by adding a few clinics and skills courses are not enough.  We can no longer prepare law students just to be "knowers" of the law.  We must educate future lawyers to be self-directed learners.  Law schools can do this with active learning, by teaching students about metacogntion, by using formative assessments, and by developing students' professional identities.  I hope law schools follow the lead of Dean Bierman's law school and reinvent legal education.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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