I am sitting in Denver on a beautiful sunny Saturday and not wishing I was outside hiking. That is because the energy, ideas and information being shared and built upon at the Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL) Conference is givng me hope and optimism about the way out of the “crisis” in legal education.
For those of you who are thinking, what is ETL? Basically, the University of Denver’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System has the mission of advancing the civil justice system so it is a more accessible, efficient and accountable system. One of their projects is Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL) http://EducatingTomorrowsLawyers.du.edu . ETL was launched in august of 2011 and intends to “leverage the Carnegie model … to align legal education with the evolving needs of the profession by providing a supported platform for shared learning, experimentation, ongoing measurement, and collective implementation.” ETL fills a vacuum for those of us who have attempted to implement the 2007 initiatives of Best Practices and Carnegie and have been faced with questions such as : What data is available to guide decisionmaking? Are there models out there? Can groups of law schools provide financial and structural support for collaboration and sharing of ideas?
This weekend’s conference focused on formation of Professional Identity. DU Law’s David Thomson challenged us on the need to create situations and spaces where that reflection and formation can occur. He posits that we can’t TEACH another to form THEIR identity but we can design structured experiences in doctrinal courses which engage students in the reflective process from which formation occurs. Bill Henderson of Indiana’s Maurer School of Law tackled head on the structural changes occurring in the legal profession in a historical and data driven analysis which suggests there is indeed opportunity for future employment in the new economy. However, we need to expand our conception of legal education and re-prioritize if we hope to provide the equip our students with the tools for “making a living” in the new economy. Daisy Floyd focused participants on how to start (in the first year of law school) engaging students in a process geared toward the development of practical wisdom and the lifelong pursuit of further professional wisdom.
One interesting reflection: I got the sense that religious and mission-driven schools had less trouble engaging their communities on the issue of formation as an explicit curricular goal. A knee jerk liberal reaction (of which I have some) could be that such schools are really just proselytizing instead of teaching professional secular values. However, the dialogue and exchange was so rich at the conference that I am leaving with a renewed sense of how important it is for secular schools also to profess their intention or mission with respect to value formation and commitment to a curriculum in which students engage in the practice of acquiring practical wisdom. Developing practical judgment in an ethical context seems tied to identifying and reflecting iupon one’s own moral as well as ethical reactions and also listening to and understanding the reactions of others.
I’d love to hear the thoughts of others who attended and will also note when video or other materials are available from the conference.
UPDATE: Please find the materials for the conference here
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