Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Using Portfolios for Assessment

A few years ago I started to use student portfolios as part of the end-of-semester evaluation of my students. I have found that portfolios can be an excellent vehicle both for the student’s own self-reflection and for providing summative feedback.

Here is how I use them. At the end of the semester, I ask each student to prepare a portfolio of the written work the student did over the course of the semester. In doing so, each student is asked to read the first and final version of the principal documents that the student drafted during the semester (in the context of my cases, these include the client’s affidavit, any witness affidavits and a brief).

I also ask them to bring the drafts and final versions to the meeting. During the meeting, each student is expected to have reflected on his/her writing, considered how his/her writing progressed over the semester, and point out 2-3 improvements that he or she made. They are also expected to use the drafts to illustrate the progress.

My students find that the act of assembling the portfolio and rereading their own written work serves as a reminder of how far the student has come in crafting a legal theory or developing a factual account of the relevant events or even about some of the obstacles that he or she encountered along the way and how he or she managed to overcome them. I like this method of assessment because it is mainly about self-reflection. Each student in learning from his or her own work. The portfolio is simply a vehicle to make that learning tangible. It is a wonderfully, tangible way to show someone how much he or she has improved over the course of a semester.

I was recently speaking with Larry Farmer from Brigham Young University School of Law. He mentioned that he uses portfolios too. But in his case, they are videos. At the beginning of his course on Interviewing, before any class has been conducted, he asks each student to conduct a mock interview, which is videotaped. The students then spend the semester learning about, practicing, and refining their interviewing techniques.

Then, at the end of the semester, they are asked to review that first interview and to reflect upon their own improvement over the semester. Like the written portfolio that I use, this one also uses a student’s own work to demonstrate learning and progress. I plan to try it next semester.

Are there other ideas out there? Do you use portfolios? If so, how? How can I improve my process? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Starting with WHY — Building Curriculum for Clinic-wide Orientation

My clinical colleagues and I are planning to convert an Orientation that we currently jointly teach into a 2-credit Clinic Orientation module. The Orientation typically includes a mixture of joint classes and smaller individual clinic-focused sessions.

Since we are developing this new course from scratch, it provides an opportunity to think deliberatively about how we design the course and to clarify our objectives and learning outcomes. In light of the changes in ABA accreditation standards, including the need to define learning outcomes and to assess according to our stated objectives, I thought it could be helpful to document the process we are taking as we develop the course.

My faculty colleagues and I met for the first time this week to start brainstorming for development of this new Clinic Orientation course. We started by brainstorming about WHY we want to develop the course. (I was inspired to Start with Why by Simon Sinek. Here is his inspiring TED talk on that topic).

Here is what we came up with as to WHY we want to develop a new jointly-taught, credit-bearing, Orientation module:

  1. Students need to be able to do certain activities early in the semester/hit the ground running:
  • Interviewing
  • Office procedures
  • Reflection/self-critique
  • Professional responsibility 101 (when working with clients)
  • Research
  • Fact investigation (including reading/maintaining files)
  • Working with interpreters
  • Persuasion
  • Attention to cultural difference/ competency/empathy
  1. Explain the WHY of our pedagogy (explain clinical pedagogy to students)
  • Active and engaged learning
  • Direct responsibility – WHY? Autonomy, mastery, purpose
  • Collaboration – across the board, with team, fellow clinic students, students in other clinics, support staff, faculty
  • Acting for Lawyers
  1. Reinforce “one firm” culture – clinical courses are different, collegial, work together, spaces where you can learn while having fun!
  1. Service Mission of Clinics
  1. Set our expectations for students
  1. Efficiency of teaching resources

As we developed this list, our goal was to brainstorm and include as wide a scope of objectives as possible. We decided to leave for another set of meetings the tasks of thinking about how to achieve these goals and what the classes designed to achieve them would look like. Keeping the conversation on task was a challenge; the temptation was to move onto thinking about how or what. We found it easiest when we designated a person to draw us back to the WHY task when the conversation started to branch off into thinking about HOW or WHAT.

Our next step is drawn from the IDEO Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit. IDEO is a design firm. It looks at systems from a design perspective. I am excited to start applying their theories and practices to legal education. I’ll keep you posted as that project develops.

Call for Talks – Igniting Law Teaching 2015

LAW PROFESSORS: Are you doing innovative things in the classroom? I would love to showcase your ideas at Igniting Law Teaching, a TEDx-styled conference on law school innovations.

The Call for Talks for Igniting Law Teaching 2015 is out, We’ll be reviewing proposals on a rolling basis, until January 15th.

The conference is March 19-20, 2015 (stay tuned for registration information) in Washington DC at American University Washington College of Law.

Last year’s conference brought together more than 40 law school academics in a TEDx-styled conference to share ideas on law school innovations. LegalED’s Teaching Pedagogy video collection includes many of the talks from last year’s conference (others are being produced and will be available soon).

The topics we addressed last year are: Flipping A Law School Course, Using the Classroom for Active Learning, Simulations, Feedback and Assessment, The Craft of Law Teaching, Applying Learning Theory to Legal Education, Beyond Traditional Law Subjects, and Teaching for the 21st Century.

We would love to hear more on these topics and also expand the horizons a bit. We designed the conference to create a forum for professors like you who are experimenting with cutting edge technologies and techniques in law teaching with the goal of spreading your ideas to the broader community. We see the conference as a way to showcase you as a leader in teaching innovation and to inspire innovation by others as well.

The Igniting Law Teaching conference is unlike other gatherings of law professors. Here, talks will be styled as TEDx Talks, with each speaker on stage alone, giving a well scripted and performed talk about an aspect of law school pedagogy. In the end, we will create a collection of short videos on law school-related pedagogy that will inspire innovation and experimentation by law professors around the country, and the world, to bring more active learning and practical skills training into the law school curriculum. The videos will be available for viewing by the larger academic community on LegalED, a website developed by a community of law professors interested in using online technologies to facilitate more active, problem-based learning in the classroom, in addition to more assessment and feedback.

This is a great opportunity to showcase your innovations to the legal academy. Consider joining us for Igniting Law Teaching 2015!

Cross-posted on the LegalTech Blog


As reported last week here, the ABA Council on Legal Education met in San Francisco to review proposed revisions to law school accreditation standards.  The ABA reviewed four proposals sent to them by the Standards Review Committee (which I described in an earlier post here) and which were intended to address  faculty competence, academic freedom and governance rights.   The Council sent out for notice and comment two of the four proposals. Some commentators have suggested that one of the adopted proposals includes some security of position and the other does not. However, a closer look suggests that neither proposal affords any meaningful security of position.  see National Law Journal  

The alternative that mentions security of position states that:

(d) A law school shall afford all full-time faculty members a form of security of position sufficient to ensure academic freedom and attraction and retention of a competent full-time faculty (emphasis added).”

At first glance, I optimistically thought “Maybe ensuring a competent full-time faculty would require something beyond at-will employment?” However,  I was reminded by a professional colleague that this proposal is identical to the current provision for legal writing professors, which has been interpreted to permit at-will contracts as long as the teachers are “competent,”  Undeterred in my optimism, I thought “Well ensuring academic freedom certainly needs to ensure some job security especially for folks like clinicians who have been attacked repeatedly for representing the powerless against the moneyed members of our society, right?”  However,  the ABA interprets that same language  in the clinical context to permit one-year renewable contracts,  as long as the institution has a “policy” on academic freedom,

As Amy Poehler would say “Really!1?!  Really!?!”    Is that really the kind of job security that will fill you with confidence in advocating  on behalf of seemingly powerless clinic clients or articulating unpopular but important legal positions?   And what about all this talk from the ABA and the profession about how students need to be better prepared for practice and the profession.   “Really!1?!  Really!?!”  How is that going to happen when you de-value those in the academy who teach through supervised practice ?   CLEA President Kate Kruse got it spot on when she wrote on the clinic listserv,

“Because tenure is now and is likely to remain the norm only for doctrine professors, both of these provisions protect current faculty power relationships and threaten the presence in legal education of teachers specializing in experiential education.’

That is not good news for legal education, law students or future clients.  REALLY.

Four Proposals on Faculty Forwarded to Council on Legal Education

As readers of this blog remember, the July ABA Standards Review Committee (SRC) meeting was slated to be an important one. SRC actions taken with respect to the curriculum and program of legal education were discussed by Professor Michele Pistone last week here. In this post, I want to alert readers to the SRCs decisions regarding faculty competence, tenure and security of position, governance rights, and compensation and perquisites. I have read Karen Sloan’s National Law Journal article discussing the July meeting here. In addition, I reviewed the very helpful and thorough CLEA and SALT reports on the meeting submitted by Professors Claudia Angelos and Carol Chomsky here.


The CLEA/SALT report does a good job of explaining the process.

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is the accrediting agency for JD programs in U.S. law schools. The Council’s Accreditation Standards, contained in the“ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools,” are subject to a comprehensive review every five years. The Council has delegated to the Standards Review Committee, an appointed committee comprised of legal educators and others, the task of recommending changes to the standards. After receiving a report and recommendation from the SRC, the Council asks for comment from interested constituencies on the proposed changes and then acts on the SRC’s recommendations…

The SRC’s proposals most notably include final recommendations on student learning outcomes and on faculty tenure, governance, and academic freedom (emphasis added). The Council will receive and discuss these recommendations at its next meeting, in San Francisco on August 9, 2013. After the Council considers and possibly amends these recommendations, they will be sent out for notice and comment by the public.


1.  Proposed eliminating the minimum faculty-student ratio requirement. As Karen Sloan in the National Law Journal points out,

The ABA committee reviewing the organization’s accreditation standards has voted to do away with the rule establishing a minimum student-to-faculty ratio. The panel reasoned that determining the true size of a law school faculty is just too complicated, given the number of adjuncts and non-fulltime teachers.

Law schools would still have to have enough faculty members to carry out their mission and comply with all the other accreditation standards, said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director for accreditation and legal education. But schools no longer would need to annually ensure they have at least one fulltime faculty equivalent for every 30 students.

Read more here.

2. The SRC also sent four proposals (A-D) regarding faculty security, academic freedom and governance up to the Council on Legal Education. The CLEA/SALT report states

All four alternatives contain provisions requiring law schools to adopt and adhere to policies that provide that all full-time faculty have academic freedom and “meaningful participation” in law school governance over mission and curriculum. They all require (in varying language) that schools have a comprehensive system for considering and making decisions regarding promotion, tenure, renewal of contracts or other forms of security of position, and termination. While there are some bedeviling details, the primary differences among the four alternatives relate to tenure and security of position for faculty.


The recommendations on Faculty must be read in conjunction with other recommendations in Chapter 4 and in other Chapters and can only be fairly viewed as part of an integrated whole. Moreover, the Council must use common sense and their experience of human behavior in deciding appropriate rules.

For example, Alternative D proposes no security of position (including tenure) for any faculty member. The only requirement is that a school demonstrate it can “attract and retain a competent faculty.” This proposal assumes one can ensure academic freedom (required elsewhere in the rules) without tying it to security of position. Now, in the abstract that may appear like a workable plan. But seriously, outside of academics, pundits and those who are so independently wealthy that security of employment matters little, where has anyone witnessed regularly an employee freely declaring, writing, and advocating on controversial or unpopular subjects and the advocacy having no bearing on one’s ability to keep one’s job, support one’s family and pay one’s bills?

In another example, the SRC proposals under Chapter 3 Program of Legal Education require law schools to focus more intently on student learning outcomes, experience-based opportunities, academic support for students, and preparing students for practice. This push was demanded by consumers, the economy, and the profession, and the proposed revised standards appropriately respond to those demands. However, that kind of teaching requires small class sizes, close supervision and multiple feedback opportunities. Yet,the SRC proposal eliminates minimum faculty-student ratio requirements. In addition, the student-learning focused activities encouraged by the standards will, in the real lives of faculty and students, compete with the ability to spend considerable time working on intense writing projects and pathbreaking scholarship. Thus, one would think that both activities should be, at the very least, equally encouraged and certainly there should be no DISINCENTIVE to focus on teaching rather than primarily focusing on scholarship. Yet, in all but one of the faculty proposals sent to the Council the standards allow for discrimination in security, compensation, and/or governance against many of the very faculty members who will be working most closely on student learning needs and innovative teaching.

If you care about legal education, about preserving academic freedom while updating law school teaching to meet the challenges of a global digitalized economy, be vigilant. As noted above, the Council considers these recommendations at its San Francisco meeting on August 9, 2013 and will soon send them out for public notice and comment.


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