Friday, July 30, 2021
Professor Neil Hamilton has written a new article on legal education that all deans and curriculum committee chairs need to read:
The reason this article is so important is because it presents how and when to provide curricular support during the significant transitions each student experiences in law school. I know of no other legal education article that has attempted this.
"Curricular support during the significant transitions each student experiences in law school will provide substantial benefits to students as well as the law school. What are the significant transitions? The distinction between the situational changes a law student experiences and the significant transitions of law school is important. During law school, each student experiences a number of situational changes like physically moving to a new city to attend law school, starting a new class, or starting a new year of law school. A significant transition, however, is a psychological inner reorientation and self-definition that the student must go through in order to incorporate the situational changes into a new understanding of professional life’s developmental process.1 This article will make clear that the major periods of inner re-orientation and self-definition for a law student are exceptional opportunities for the law faculty and staff to foster student growth toward later stages of the school’s learning outcomes. These opportunities benefit both students individually and the law school itself."
"Research on medical education emphasizes that a new entrant to a profession like medicine is growing, step by step, from being an outsider with a stance of an observer to join a new group or ‘community of expert practice’ as an insider in a profession."
"The premise of this article is that each law student during law school, similar to each medical student during medical school, will also have significant transitions where the student is growing, step by step, from being a novice outsider with a stance of an observer ultimately to join a new
community of practice as an insider to the profession. Unfortunately, there is very limited scholarship about the significant transitions each student must navigate in legal education. Part I of this article provides an analytical framework regarding the major transitions a law student must make to become a competent practicing lawyer. In Part II, the article provides data from law students starting the 2L year that identify the students’ perception of the major transitions from being a student to being a practicing lawyer in the 1L year and the summer between the 1L and 2L years. Part III analyzes principles that should inform an effective curriculum to help students grow during the major transitions of law school. Part IV applies the principles of an effective curriculum from Part III to the specific transitions that the students identified as most important in Part II."
From the Conclusion:
"Faculty and staff need to focus on major transition periods of inner re-orientation and self-definition for the law students as exceptional opportunities to foster student growth toward the school’s learning outcomes. This article has outlined major transition periods for law students that are exceptional opportunities for a proactive law school to foster student growth toward later stages of both ownership over each student’s own professional development (self-directed learning) and internalized responsibility to the client and the legal system.66 Student growth toward later stages of these two foundational learning outcomes will benefit both the students and the school.
The most important step for a proactive school to take is to provide coaching, feedback, and guided reflection at the major transitions involving authentic professional experiences (either real-life or mimicking real-life). If the coaching, feedback, and guided reflection are around an authentic professional experience that is part of an existing clinic, externship, or skills class, then clearly, the school can give credit for it. This would also be true if the coaching, feedback, and guided reflection, for example, guided reflective journals on the summer employment experience combined with a meeting with a coach, were part of a doctrinal course like Professional Responsibility. If the coaching, feedback, and guided reflection relate to authentic professional experiences outside of the current formal curriculum, for example, like the schools that require pro bono hours but do not supervise them, or all paid clerkships outside of the law school or even research assistant positions during the summers or the school year, ABA Accreditation Standards 303 and 304 indicate that this coaching would not qualify for experiential credit."
In sum, download and read this important article!