Congratulations UNM and Editors of the proposed new Best Practices Book!

This weekend, the University of New Mexico hosted a workshop BEST PRACTICES IN LEGAL EDUCATION: The Walls Are Coming Down” in which draft chapters of a new “Best Practices” book were reviewed and discussed.  The proposal to create a second book focused on best practices in legal education is the brainchild of Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, ably assisted by Professors Deborah Maranville, , Carolyn Kaas and Lisa Bliss. The symposium workshop brought together law professors from throughout the country interested in how legal education and the world of law schools has changed since the publication of the 2007 book Best Practices in Legal Education. Facilitated by Professors Beryl Blaustone and Alex Scherr, the conference explored how many law professors fluidly move from former silos of clinical, legal writing, lawyering, librarian, doctrinal, theory, or skills concentrations to pioneer a new kind of curriculum, better prepare students for the profession, explore the limits and usefulness of technology, and deepen the understanding and learning of law students through self-improving assessment processes.

Fully cognizant of the pressures on legal educators, the fact that not all in legal education welcome the need to change, and the moral imperative to address the concerns of debt-ridden unemployed law students, the authors, editors, advisory board members and readers reviewed challenges, cross-cutting themes and areas of promise. They engaged in innovative thinking about how to move legal education forward for the good of the profession, society and the students who desire to be lawyers of tomorrow. The keynote speaker for the Friday night dinner and author of the first book, Professor Roy Stuckey, directed the participants’ attention to what legal education should look like in 2027. At the same time, he reminded us that those seeking to improve legal education today stand on the shoulders of folks such as the honorable Rosalie Wahl and former ABA president Bob MacCrate who paved the way for the changes we have seen in the last 40 years. He recalled their joint mission to prepare “agents for justice in our communities.”

Every law graduate needs to understand fully that civic professional role of the lawyer. And every admittee to the bar has a sworn duty to improve our system of and access to justice. Returning to those principles can help prioritize our cost-cutting and can position us to move forward in the best interests of our students, our institutions and the society our profession is pledged to serve.

Best Practices Goes International

It is only a few days before Christmas–and, as I write this, the first night of Channukah–but my thoughts turn not  to the holidays but rather to Best Practices.  As David Segal continues to write his maddening articles in the NYT on legal education–the most recent, this past Sunday, on how ABA accreditation causes law schools to be overly costly and cookie-cutter in form and content–it is well to recall the basic underpinnings of the CLEA Best Practices book, and its focus on thoughtful curricular planning and learning outcomes.  Excessive student debt, less-than-full transparency in law school statistics and practices,  and a failure to focus on preparing students to practice law are valid criticisms, and Segal is right to make them, but we all know there is more to legal education than the narrow consumerist focus that Segal (who also writes the consumer complaint-oriented The Haggler column in the Times’s Sunday Business Section ) brings to bear.

I will have more to say about those specific questions in a subsequent post, but for now I wanted to mention that Best Practices has spread its wings and reached China.  There is a now an authorized Chinese version of the book (alas, I can’t attest from personal knowledge to the accuracy of the translation, as my Mandarin consists of only a few words) that has been produced in conjunction with some ongoing workshops on clinical education in China in which US law professors from University of Pacific-McGeorge School of Law and American University Washington College of Law have been involved for the last 4-5 years.  In its current focus, Brian Landsberg and Dorothy Landsberg (director of clinical programs) at McGeorge are spearheading an effort by Chinese legal educators to develop a version of Best Practices that will work in the Chinese legal (and legal educational) context.  I went with Brian and Dorothy to Beijing in September to assist the group with organizing the project, and Brian and Dorothy will be returning there in January to provide feedback on the draft chapters. (Frank Bloch has been working with the group on a related project, and my colleague Elliott Milstein has been deeply involved with the China project from the beginning; other McGeorge, WCL and other faculty have been involved as well.)

As others who have done international clinical work can attest, the translation, literally and figuratively, of clinical concepts  (including those in Best Practices) to other legal systems can be quite challenging.  During the first workshop in 2006, for example, several of our Chinese colleagues resisted our efforts to articulate a client-centered approach to lawyering, stating that such an approach could not work in China.  When we pressed our colleagues on this point, they said that in China if the lawyer deferred to the client (as they understood client-centeredness to require) clients would importune their lawyers to engage in illegal actions.  We had not emphasized in our discussion of the concept of client-centeredness that it assumed that the client’s means and ends were legal and legitimate within the system. Absent that qualification, our colleagues heard our discussion of the concept as promoting lawlessnesss (ironic in a program sponsored by the US AID Rule of Law Project).  With the clarification, our colleagues thought that such an approach could work, though, as we all agreed, the nature of the counseling relationship and the choices actually available to clients and lawyers might well look different from how they would look in the U.S.

We had other moments of language and cultural miscommunication.  For example, it took us some time to realize that our use of the term “advocacy”–meant to convey trial-related skills of direct and cross-examination, among other things–was confusing to our Chinese colleagues since the term was translated as “criminal defense.”  Because we came to know our colleagues well–the first three years of the project consisted of three-week workshops in China, and some of the first group of attendees became co-teachers in our subsequent trainings–we were able to figure out which concepts traveled well and which did not.  The result, we hope, will be the development of a distinctively Chinese form of clinical legal education whose value, we hope, will stand the test of time.

In the workshop this fall, we did come upon one other language/conceptual roadblock, which is relevant to Best Practices. The Chinese group was concerned about use of the term “Best Practices.”  Our Chinese colleagues thought that if they entitled their book “Best Practices” it would create problems for them, because the implication would be that if anyone did not adopt their approach they would by definition be doing something that was less than the best.  The implied criticism of others would be too sharp, in their eyes, and would inevitably lead to hurt feelings and perhaps more.

 

Note that this criticism was not the same as that which my AU colleague Ira Robbins had leveled against CLEA’s Best Practices project (to which Roy Stuckey responded in a colloquy published in the Clinical Law Review)–that we were wrong to call our book Best Practices because we could not prove the practices we advocated were the best, as opposed to, say, good or recommended practices.  Indeed, the Chinese critique presumed that use of Best Practices did in fact mean that they would be saying that they were proposing what was best, and that others would react negatively to this assertion.

Indeed, before we arrived in Beijing in September we had thought there might be some concern with the term Best Practices, and had proposed the term “Effective Practices”  as one that might be less controversial.  That approach seemed to resonate with our Chinese colleagues in September, though it remains to be seen what title the group will adopt for the final product.   It could be argued that “Effective Practices” implies that those who do not adopt the suggested approach are promulgating Ineffective Practices, which would be just as much of a an apparent dismissal as not using what some thought was the best approach. But I suppose that since the book is not entitled “The Most Effective” practices, the term “Effective Practices” may seem to suggest a wider range of potentially acceptable approaches.

 

Of course, the term Best Practices as we use it in the CLEA book, and as many in the US have used it in different contexts (especially in social sciences or in regulatory environments) doesn’t really mean “best” in the sense of provably better than everything else.  (I disagree with Prof. Robbins’s assumption to the contrary.) Rather, the term is meant to suggest something like “here is our best thinking, at this time, about the particular matter.”  It is more than what might be minimally required, and, indeed, it is not required at all, but rather exists as a source of information and guidance that people may find useful and therefore may choose to adopt for their own purposes.

In the final analysis, the linguistic vagaries of the term Best Practices are less interesting than the recognition that thoughtful legal educators in China, and perhaps elsewhere around the world, may come to realize the value of the concepts articulated in the CLEA Best Practices book.  If the book generates dialogue and self-conscious examination of our pedagogical goals, it will have gone a long way toward achieving the goals that many of us have had for this project.

 

–Bob Dinerstein

December 20, 2011

 

 

Building on Best Practices: Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association, Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others.     The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education.   If you would like to author a section in the book please let us know as soon as possible.   Then by December 1, 2011 send either of us a 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea.   The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.

 

If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact either of us.

 

Looking forward to drawing  on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education!

 

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez ,Chair, Publication Committee

Deborah Maranville,  co-editor

 

Sharing Scholarship, Building Teachers Conference

Albany Law School will be hosting the Sharing Scholarship, Building Teachers conference on February 3-4, 2012.

This workshop is intended for law faculty who do not have tenure and who seek an opportunity to develop their scholarship and discuss their teaching with other, similarly situated law faculty. This program will provide a safe and comfortable forum for untenured faculty to present works in progress, solicit feedback from peers ahead of the February-March Law Review submission season, and network with other untenured faculty in the region about teaching practices and related issues.

There is no fee to attend the program (whether you are presenting a paper or not), but you must register before the deadline: November 15, 2011. Albany Law School will provide all meals and drinks during the workshop at no charge to attendees. 

I hope to see you all there,

 Sarah Rogerson
Assistant Clinical Professor of Law
Director, Family Violence Litigation Clinic

Building on Best Practices–Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others. The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education. We would like to call for topic suggestions and author abstracts. If you are interested in submitting a topic suggestions, please do so by August 1 by emailing Antoinette Sedillo Lopez at lopez@law.unm.edu with the topic idea and potential authors and resources relating to the idea. If you would like to author a section in the book and 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea. The abstract is due December 1, 2011. The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.
If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact me or Deborah Maranville, co-editor.
Looking forward to drawing on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education! Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Chair, Publication Committee

Another Conference on Experiential Learning in a Specialty Area: International Law Clinics, Externships, Internships, and Advanced Research — Pace Law School, May 6

The day after the May 5 “Practically Grounded” conference, a joint project of Pace and Albany Law Schools to be held at Pace Law School in White Plains, half an hour north of New York City (see entry below), Pace Law will host another experiential learning-oriented conference, this time on behalf of the Teaching International Law Interest Group of the American Society of International Law and the American Branch of the International Law Association.  “Teaching International Law Beyond the Classroom: Engaging Students in Experiential Learning, in Web 2.0, and in Historical and Empirical Research”  will take place on Friday, May 6, 2011, from 8:45 am to 7:00 pm.

Noteworthy is the fact that at both Teaching Conferences, all participants will be offered a free copy of Best Practices for Legal Education: A Vision and A Road Map and the book will be referenced and used throughout by conference speakers and moderators.

The focus of this conference is getting both students and faculty involved in empirical research, historical research, Web 2.0, and experiential learning.  Beth Simmons of Harvard, one of the country’s leading empiricists in the field of international law, will be speaking along with Jordan Paust, Houston; Sital Kalantry, Cornell; Julian Ku, Hofstra; Peggy McGuiness, St. John’s; and Tom Lee, Fordham.  Anthony VanDuzer, of the Ottawa University Faculty of Law, will describe his NAFTA course, co-taught with a U.S. law professor and a Mexican law professor, using Skype to bring professors and students from the three countries together simultaneously.  Robert Van Lierop, former UN ambassador currently with the UN in Darfur, will discuss the externship program he supervises, in which Pace law students assist island countries with environmental issues at the United Nations.

A full schedule and additional information can be found here.

Best Practices for Legal Education in Monterrey, Mexico

The States in Mexico are, one by one, revising their criminal law and criminal procedure codes to change from an inquisitional, written system to an adversarial system with oral trials. Of course, this transformation is a major change in their legal culture. And, the law school leaders in Mexico understand that this shift requires that they change their approach to legal education. Lectures about legal doctrines made sense when lawyers were only called upon to prepare legal documents. Now that lawyers who represent criminal defendants will have to present opening arguments, direct examinations, cross examinations and closing arguments, law students need to develop different skills. I was very privileged to travel to Monterrey, Mexico with Professor Catherine Carpenter of Southwestern Law School to provide a training session about teaching to prepare students for the practice of law in an adversary system. The session was organized by Maestro Manuel Caloca at the Casa de la Cultura Juridica de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion (The House of Judicial Culture of the National Supreme Court).

This gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk about Best Practices for Legal Education. I pointed out that the whole book is available on line. As for our training, Catherine and I role played a Socratic class. She did a superb job of questioning me about a criminal case involving involuntary manslaughter. I tried to throw her a couple of curve balls, but she caught them and effectively tossed them back. She is an extremely engaging teacher in the best tradition of Best Practices and I was very pleased that she was the model of the Socratic Method. I then had the opportunity to talk about clinical legal education and skills training through use of simulations and in the tradition of leaning by doing, we used the case Catherine taught through the Socratic method to have them prepare a direct examination and a cross examination of the defendant. I was pleased to see how engaged and motivated they were. They had a lot of questions about teaching and it was obvious that they all care very much about teaching. One of the law teachers described how she used skits to get the students to learn about the adversary system and her students prepared videos of their skits that she can use to teach other students. I was also pleased to reconnect with a long time friend who is a professor at the University of Guanajuao, Juan Manuel Olvera. The mock trial team he coached from the University of Guanajuato recently won the national mock trial competition!

Catherine also presented her work as author of the ABA curriculum report and also some insights in her role as chair of the Accreditation Committee of the ABA. Of course, because Mexico’s legal education is a five year program after high school, the context is quite different, but the faculty was very interested in trends in legal education in the United States. And, that trend is actually consistent with Mexico’s reform: focusing on improving the preparation of law students for the practice of law.

We also met Luis Fernando Perez Hurtado who is the Director of a non-profit Center for the Study of Law Teaching and Learning (Centro de Estudios sobre la Ensenanza y el Aprendizaje del Derecho). His non –governmental organization’s mission is to improve legal education and he was very pleased to learn about the Best Practices for Legal Education. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is translated into Spanish. It is really exciting to think that the Best Practices “movement” might have a role in transforming legal education in Mexico. It will be intriguing to see how the adversary system develops in Mexico and how law schools change to prepare students for the change.

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