I remember when I first started teaching, many schools had limits on how many law school credits students could earn through clinics, externships and simulation courses. I am not sure exactly why. I think the idea was that these courses were “soft” and did not require the intellectual rigor that classroom courses required. There might have been a concern about grading in those courses as well. It was thought that the grading might be inflated since they were usually not subject to the imposition of a grading curve.
My, how times have changed.
Now that employers want students who are prepared for the practice and students want education that prepares them for the practice, the question is now, how much experiential education is enough to prepare them? Karen Tokarz, Peggy Maisel and Bob Siebel and I recently completed an article suggesting that about one third of the curriculum would be ideal. We suggest the courses should be spread throughout the three years (we include legal research and writing as a “skills” course.) We believe that this amount would capitalize on the legal knowledge and analytical skills they develop in the traditional law school classroom and would help students better understand the values and develop the skills they need to become successful lawyers. Simulation courses such as trial practice, moot courts, negotiation and counseling, alternative dispute resolution, etc would help students develop and perfect the technical skills and well designed hybrid courses, externships and clinics would help students integrate the skills, knowledge and values that will enable them to develop as competent and ethical lawyers. This would remedy the fact that students are often bored by the third year of law school and it would focus law school education on helping students prepare themselves to do pursue the careers they seek. We suggest that law schools should develop learning objectives for their programs and work on assessing the effectiveness of the overall program, including classroom, simulation courses and hybrid, clinics and externships.
In the article we point to schools that have been moving in that direction. We highlight the seventeen (17) law schools that require clinical course work and we also describe the growing movement of schools that guarantee a clinical course for every student who desires one. Now, we need to engage one of the most important principles of Best Practices for Legal Education, we need to assess the effectiveness of our programs. That will tell us how much experiential education we need.