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.

A 21st Century “generalist legal education”? Skills & professional identity focused.

More musings on generalist v. specialist education, and how much doctrine law schools need to teach.

A conversation with one of our University of Washington alums — Leo Flor, Westpoint grad, Gates Public Service Law Scholar, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Northwest Justice Project, and spark plug for the new resource Representing Washington Veterans  — has me chewing on whether we need a new understanding of what a “generalist legal education” means.

Leo noted that the JD is often viewed as a relevant generalist credential, even though most law school grads move into traditional bar-passage-required “law practice” jobs.  And he observed that many job postings for alternative positions list an MBA or MPA as a relevant qualification, but not the JD.

The traditional generalist education of my era, and to a significant extent still, was intended to teach a set of analytical skills and and expose students to a broad range of legal doctrine potentially relevant to a general practitioner and to passing the bar exam. Though passing the bar remains important and is a significant factor in designing the educational program for lower tier schools, few 21st century lawyers are truly general practitioners.

Perhaps the generalist foundation needed in this era is built on skills, more than doctrinal knowledge.  And for Leo’s purpose not only skills in a technician sense.  Skills also in a “professional identity” sense.  Self-awareness & understanding of ones’ own gifts.  Leadership and interpersonal skills. Such an understanding of generalist could make the JD an appropriate credential for the types of job Leo described.

In a previous post, I suggested that that, at least for those students who come to law school with significant self-knowledge and experience, a substantively specialized curriculum could make sense, if combined with the general analytical and research skills to learn new areas.  This is not a new  idea.  Back in 2002 then-law-student Kevin E. Houchen self-published a detailed review of the trend toward certificate programs and concentrations, arguing that for a subset of students such specialization makes sense.

A decade later in 2012 the New York Times touted  NYU’s  limited moves toward greater specialization not just once, but again in an article  promoting specialization for law schools focused on Biglaw.

And in early May of this year 2015 at the National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services sponsored by the ABA and Stanford Law School, speakers reiterated these themes.   Richard Susskind (13:08) argued that legal education needs to train graduates for 21sth century jobs like legal project managers, legal process analysts, legal knowledge engineers, and legal risk management.  Prof. Deborah Rhode(13.29) observed that it “makes no sense to train Wall Street M &A lawyers the same way we train someone who’s going to be doing routine real estate and divorce work in a small town.”

It is not so very difficult to understand what acting on Prof. Rhode’s observation might mean.  As a practical matter, some curricular differentiation based on where graduates will practice already takes place, linked primarily to  different levels in the law school hierarchy.  Beyond that, many schools offer an extensive enough curriculum – both in doctrine and skills — to permit considerable specialization aimed at traditional law practice niches, even beyond formal concentration tracks and certificate programs.

For more specialized training law schools that offer extensive LL.M. programs routinely allow students to complete an accelerated JD/LL.M in three calendar years.  In the tax field, where the LL.M. has long been de rigueur, many schools provide such opportunities, including NYU, the long-time leader in tax LL.M’s.  And increasingly, schools educate students not just in substantive tax specialties, but also — using my own school, the University of Washington as an example — with  tax-focused skills and clinical training for both JD. and LL.M. students.

My hunch is that increasing numbers of students already opt to specialize, sometimes with a substantive law focus, often combined with a skills focus, e.g.  corporate deals with drafting or criminal & tort law with trial advocacy.

Richard Susskind’s challenge is a bigger stretch for legal education, though, again, some initiatives are visible, such as Michigan State‘s Reinvent Law Laboratory.

A key challenge for law schools is to learn how to identify prospective students or develop admitted ones who understand their life goals and values, and their intellectual and personal gifts well enough to make intelligent decisions around specialization.  To meet that  challenge, a holistic approach to education is needed –whether understood in the MacCrate framework of knowledge,  skills and values, or the Carnegie framework of cognitive, professional skills and ethical professional identity apprenticeships.

Inner Development, Community, Social Justice (Concurrent Session, AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education)

Last, but not least, in this series highlighting lessons from experts in other disciplines relevant to how to navigate the chaotic “new normal”  in legal education: Thursday’s concurrent session organized by Tennessee’s Paulette Williams:  “A Commitment to Inner Development: Connecting the “New Normal” with Clinics’ Social Justice Mission”.

The session brought  Edward Groody and Timothy Dempsey from the Community Building Institute in Tennessee.  The Institute helps social service and criminal justice organizations become more effective by training participants in community building practices.  Taking an evidence-based approach built on motivational interviewing, trauma-informed care, and pro-social supports, community building is a “highly experiential process that helps participants remove barriers to communication and unlearn unproductive attitudes and behaviors.”

Groody began the session with a detailed overview of a four-stage process for building community:

  • Pseudo-community
  • Chaos
  • Emptying/Letting Go
  • Community

That process adds an important step — emptying/letting go — to Bruce Tuckman’s familiar “forming, storming, norming, performing” model of group formation.  My own interpretation of this additional,  third step is that it provides space for  participants to recognize,  and learn skills to address, the emotional issues that so often get in the way of honest connection with others.

Dempsey then shared powerful stories of how that process helps ex-offenders with post-prison re-entry,  allowing them to move past behavioral responses that may have seemed — and perhaps were — functional in their previous lives, but would block their efforts to move forward.   Or, to put it another way, this step acknowledges that in order to take advantage of education or employment opportunities, people need to let go of fears, resentments or trauma.  This is challenging work that is the foundation of many spiritual traditions, but can help build strong connections with others.

Time constraints prevented Paulette Williams from speaking in detail about how she makes use of this process in her clinical teaching work.  I hope she finds other forums for sharing those experiences and insights.

The insights of this community building process struck me as relevant not only to social justice and clinical legal education work, but also to faculty interactions within our law schools.  From another time and place, I well remember a year when every faculty meeting resulted in controversy, usually about something relatively minor that seemed to be a proxy for other, larger, but unacknowledged issues festering beneath the surface.    I suspect that many faculties are experiencing something similar as they operate  in the  current climate of uncertainty and change, too often getting stuck in the fear those conditions foster.  It’s  difficult for me to imagine applying this model in the typical law school environment.  But successfully moving through the “emptying/letting go” phase, as individuals and a group,  could be oh, so helpful!

Birth, Maturity, Creative Destruction & Renewal At AALS Clinical Conference

As someone who collaborated on a concurrent session titled “Facing Our Fears in Changing Times” at the AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education, it’s probably not surprising that I was especially drawn to sessions that brought in models or speakers from other disciplines to provide insight on how to operate effectively in the midst of the current period of change in legal education.

In addition to my last post on Michele Weise’s Closing Plenary, in this and my next two posts, I’ll discuss three other provocative sessions that addressed different aspects of this theme.

On Tuesday morning my University of Washington colleagues Jennifer Fan and Lisa Kelly, worked with Rutgers-Newark’s Randi Mandelbaum and Syracuse’s Mary Helen McNeal to introduce the “liberating structures eco-systems model” of leadership.  That model views organizational change as an  infinity loop in which organizations move through four cycles that call for different styles of leadership:

Stage                                                   Leadership Style

Birth                                                     Entrepreneur

Maturity                                                Manager

Creative Destruction                           Heretic

Renewal                                               Networker

The model suggests that embedded in the cycle are two “traps“:

1. Between the Maturity and Creative Destruction stages lies the Rigidity Trap of “not letting go” of what the organization has birthed and brought to maturity.  Staying stuck in the past and wedded to the old ways of doing things.

2. Between Creative Destruction and Renewal lies the Poverty Trap of “not investing enough to accomplish renewal”.

Sound familiar? The session included an exercise where attendees decided which stage  they perceived their individual clinic, program, institution, or the clinical legal education movement to be in.  Participants  then added on the infinity loop diagram post-its with their results.  Although responses were spread around the loop, most clustered  among Maturity — Creative Destruction — and Renewal.  Most responses addressed clinical programs and law schools.

I find this framework a helpful reminder that our current struggles are “normal” and that they won’t last forever.  And inspiration to let go of fears and rigidity.

I’m grateful to my former colleague Tim Jaasko-Fisher for his work with liberating structures in the Court Improvement Academy of UW Law’s Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic.

Disruptive Innovation & the AALS Clinical Conference

One of the highlights of last week’s AALS Conference for Clinical Law Teachers was the closing talk by Michele Weise, Senior Fellow, Education at the Clay Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. (A big shout out to Michele Pistone for her role in making that talk happen!) I was superficially familiar with the  disruptive innovation thesis, but Weise’s half-hour talk brought to life its relevance to the current moment in legal education in a way that previous exposure had not. Disruptive innovations that shake up a market or industry often follow a predictable pattern, it is argued. The established players in the market target a higher end client base and compete on quality, improving the product and selling it at a high margin.  This leaves a significant, low-end segment of the market unserved. New entrants provide an inferior product to these unserved consumers, and gradually improve the product and expand their market.  Poof go the established players. Think personal computers, print media, digital cameras, mobile phones . . . . Traditional higher education has long failed to reach a significant segment of potential consumers and the federal government’s shift from financial aid grants to student loans has greatly exacerbated that problem. Arguably, the stage is set for disruptive innovation and on-line technology may be the means to that disruption. The next step of Weise’s analysis was what really captured my attention. She noted that higher education currently serves many functions – transmission of content and certification of knowledge or skills; providing a safe space for young adults to mature socially; networking opportunities, mentoring and tutoring; research & dissemination of scholarship. These functions can be – and are being – disaggregated and provided more cheaply on line. Even the Harvards of the world are potentially at risk, according to Weise. Law schools have traditionally provided a generalist education.  As legal practice becomes more specialized, that educational model arguably serves to mask more specialized functions that could be disaggregated.  This is already being tried in my home state of Washington with our new Limited Licensed Legal Technician (aka/ Triple LT) program.  But lawyers also wouldn’t have to be trained as generalists.  As course offerings expand, the potential for moving away from the traditional generalist education does also.  Already,  this shows up in the transcripts of some of my students who are not necessarily taking the doctrinal courses that were considered foundational in my day.  Does this matter? Before hearing Weise’s talk, during the Law Clinic Directors Workshop, I raised the question “how much doctrine do we need to teach?” Good lawyers, I observed,  have extensive doctrinal knowledge.  (Of course, law schools historically haven’t taught doctrine in connection with the experiential anchor points that many of us need in order to retrieve that knowledge for practice.)  Elliott Milstein later challenged the importance of doctrinal knowledge,  observing that his clinic students handle their cases well regardless of whether they have taken relevant doctrinal courses.  Often true.  And yet . . .  The counter-example that I didn’t have a chance to share:  one of my  students  recognized that we could challenge a new unemployment compensation statute on the ground that the subject was not properly included in the title of the legislation.  A classic case of issue spotting that came about solely because he was taking a Washington State Constitutional Law course.  (I didn’t recognize the issue.) A reminder that the ability to issue spot is valuable.  But  . . . state constitutional law isn’t a classic “foundational” “bar course”. This issue spotting was strictly serendipity – a traditional doctrinally-focused course load would not have accomplished this result. I’m still struggling with the generalist/specialist question.  But it leaves me thinking about the potential for niche curricular innovation aimed at students – often older ones who understand their talents, passions and life goals – who come to law school with a commitment to a practice area like criminal law, immigration law, or business law.

  • Are there enough of those students to justify a legal education targeted at those niches?
  • If so, can we focus their education in a way that really prepares them for their specialty?
  • And, can we at the same time identify a “sweet spot” of “just enough” generalist knowledge to accompany that specialization?  One that provides a foundation for passing the bar exam and the analytical and research skills to master new areas of the law, but does not take up the bulk of a three year curriculum?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.  But they strike me as worth investigating.

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


Less than a month ago, the New York State Courts circulated a proposal to change the New York State (NYS) Bar Exam by adopting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) along with a second, separately graded “New York Law Exam” segment consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions, tested for one hour on the second day of the exam.   The proposal would make the changes effective for all current graduating law students who face the bar exam in July 2015.    This past weekend, the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates unanimously opposed the proposed immediate changes,  sending a  message to the NYS Board of Law Examiners and to the New York Court of Appeals – do not bring the Uniform Bar Exam and a yet to be formulated or studied New York Exam to NYS in  July 2015.  Even more significantly, the House directed the State Bar President, based on an amendment from the floor,  to do everything possible to prevent immediate implementation of a new bar exam in New York.  

So, how did NYS get to the point where the Courts and the Bar are in such conflict over proposed changes to the bar exam?

For several years,  the NYS Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar Committee (LEAB)  (on which I have formerly served as an active member) has been studying how to improve the bar exam to make it fairer for all groups of test takers and more relevant to what graduates need to know, value and do in the early years of practice. See NYSBA Legal Education September2013Journal particularly page 31.  The Committee, through its chairs, has reached out to the NYS Board of Law Examiners and the Chief Justice about these matters without success.  The UBE was not one of the reform measures which LEAB proposed for further study or pilot projects.

Suddenly, and without notice to the NYSBA LEAB Committee,  co-chaired by  well-respected practitioner Eileen Millett and equally well-respected Touro Law Center Dean Patricia Salkin , the courts circulated and posted the following:


The New York State Board of Law Examiners has recommended to the New York Court of Appeals that the current bar examination be replaced with the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). The Court of Appeals is considering adopting the UBE for the administration of the July 2015 bar exam. On October 6, 2014, the Court of Appeals issued a Request for Public Comment on the proposal. Submissions will be accepted until November 7, 2014. A copy of the Request for Public Comment is available by clicking this link:   New York Court of Appeals Request for Comment

The proposal and request for comment document asserts that  “The UBE is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and passage of the test would produce a portable score that can be used to gain admission in other states that accept the UBE, provided the applicant satisfies any other jurisdiction-specific admission requirements. As the UBE is accepted by more states,the portable score will facilitate lawyer mobility across state lines, resulting in expanded employment opportunities for lawyers throughout the nation and facilitating multi-state law practices.”

Given the surprise announcement from the Court on October 6, 2014 of a 30-day comment period (open until this Friday, Nov. 7th) , the LEAB and its co-chairs  had only a matter of weeks to research, discuss and prepare a report for the State Bar Association about the implications of the proposed changes. The LEAB report 10-29-2014 (2) argues that it is simply too soon to discuss the merits of the Uniform Bar Exam and its potential impact on test takers in New York because of the surprise nature of the announcement along with absence of any study or report discussing a need, a cost-benefit analysis, or a discussion of whether there could be disparate impacts on minority test-takers.  LEAB is concerned about potential increase in costs for test-takers, impact on barriers to entry to the profession in New York, and impact on the New York job market.  LEAB  discussions emphasized that the practicing bar has been pressuring law schools to meet the demands of a changing market place including, among other things, producing more “practice ready” lawyers that would presumably include a richer knowledge of New York Law.  Impacts on foreign lawyers and other important issues for consideration were also raised.

On this past weekend, co-chairs Millett and Salkin presented their findings to the NYSBA House of Delegates.  The presentation to the State Bar can be viewed here (Click on the Nov. 1 House of Delegates Meeting and then click on the Report of the Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar)  Co-Chair Millett challenged the notion that the proposed reforms as outlined would actually result in  portability. Co-chair Salkin pointed out that the notion of “uniformity” seems misleading given that in NY many uniform rules are not used and that  current law school  courses focus on statutes different than those used by the UBE .   Significantly, three past presidents of the NYSBA testified against the proposed immediate changes including Steve Younger who emphasized the issues raised by New York’s special connection with international lawyers from around the globe admitted to practice  in New York State.  Many expressed concern for current students facing the July Bar, including Albany Law School Professor Michael Hutter who asked  “Why the Rush to Judgment?” Dean Patricia Salkin and Betty Lugo (President-elect of the Puerto Rican Bar Association founded in 1957) expressed particular concern that minority bar associations were not consulted, and that questions on the proposed brand new “New York Law Exam” component have never been tested on previous exams, a “best practice” for all standardized tests that are given as points of entry to higher education and the professions.

Why does this matter?

The contents, pass rates and disparate impacts of the bar exam matter tremendously .  This is our profession’s gatekeeping device.  It announces  what we value and what we do not value. It will be a make or break change for many law students starting in July who have prepared their course of study under different sets of expectations. For many schools and many students, bar exam subjects and testing methods determine their course curriculum rather than what they need to meet student learning outcomes or preparing for practice. This proposed change deserves further scrutiny and evaluation.  New Yorkers also deserve that the Court evaluate  the success of licensure practices which include clinical evaluation while in professional school as opposed to sole reliance on standardized testing.

See attached SALT Letter-NY Bar opposing the proposed changes.

My  Reaction to the Proposed Changes:


  • Should proposed changes result in a decrease in the number of doctrinal subjects tested on the NY Bar exam that will be an advantageous change both for making the bar exam more relevant and for allowing law schools and students to craft better curricular choices to prepare them for the jobs and careers of today and tomorrow.  (see earlier BLOG post on this issue here.)


  • The process for adopting the proposed change is too hasty and is unfair to current third year students and to second year students who have already planned three semesters around the exam.
  • The proposed changes have not been studied appropriately. For example, no one knows if the new format, particularly the 50 question NYS multiple choice format,  will exacerbate the already disparate impact on graduates of color and/or if it will create a separate barrier for admission to those who will make great lawyers but not particularly good standardized test-takers given the speededness/speediness factor – 50 multiple choice in one hour will make or break you on the NY part!
  •  The proposed format fails to address the critical need for bar licensure to include evaluation of actual, supervised, and  limited practice of law while in law school or immediately thereafter.  As a gateway to a client-centered, civic profession, evaluation of the limited supervised practice of law could and should replace – at least some part – of the current standardized testing.

NEW YORK LAWYERS, LAW STUDENTS  AND LAW PROFESSORS ACT NOW!  Comments due by this Friday November 7th.

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