Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Dan Rodriguez, Innovation in Legal Education Is a Data Desert

Dan Rodriguez (Northwestern), Innovation in Legal Education Is a Data Desert

"The direction of change in the modern American law school is a positive one, and there are real reasons to be encouraged – indeed enthusiastic – about the momentum that close observers and stakeholders see in our long-conservative academy.

But yes there is a “however,” and that is this: Many of these strategic efforts at real innovation are taking shape without adequate data. To a remarkable and troubling extent, law school innovation is a data desert. We develop natural experiments, we try out initiatives which we hope will move the needle, and yet we scarcely build upon real data – not never, but not enough.

This post has a blunt polemical point and it is this: Legal educators must develop effective data; we must overcome whatever collective action problems stand in the way of developing these data; we must take scrupulous care to analyze data in creating and implementing reform strategies; and we must, in the end, make change on the basis of evidence wherever possible, not conjecture."

"I can say from my own experience, which includes full-time service at four diverse law schools, and service as dean at two law schools for a total of nearly fourteen years, that we are fundamentally inadequate, and at times border on the functionally illiterate, when it comes to collecting, synthesizing, and analyzing data."

"The collective problem is a severe one, indeed nearly fatal when it comes to serious innovation and reform.  How can we come to know what changes to our educational, economic, and engagement structures mean for the improvement in our graduates’ performance as new lawyers or business professionals or entrepreneurs or . . .  Moreover, how can we come to know what innovations in legal education mean for the progress of the legal system?"

I agree completely with Dean Rodriguez's arguments.  However, I am concerned that the need for additional data will serve as an excuse to delay innovation in legal education.  There has been a great deal of research on education in other areas, which law schools should not ignore in making immediate reforms.  General education researchers have demonstrated the importance of active learning, teaching students about metacognition, using formative assessment, encouraging students to become self-regulated learners, etc.  While doing needed research, law schools should immediately integrate such proven innovations into legal education.  The Carnegie Report and Best Practices came out over ten years; the time is now.  Our students deserve it.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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