Family Law Education Reform Project

More synchronicity in the slow but steady march to transform legal education.  This email floated across the family law list serve.  This is an exciting project! 

Dear Colleagues:

We are pleased to announce a new initiative to help us address the integration of family law and family practice in the classroom.  In this email, we describe our goals for the project and solicit your input and advice.

As background for this project, you may remember that the Family Law Education Reform Project (FLER), which is sponsored by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and the Center for Children, Families and the Law of Hofstra Law School, issued a report on family law education in 2006.  The report documented a gap between the content of family law courses and the way that family law is practiced. Mary E. O’Connell & J. Herbie DiFonzo, The Family Law Education Reform Project Final Report, 44 FAM. CT. REV. 525 (2006).  The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching made a similar analysis of legal education generally, calling for law schools to match “the first year’s … emphasis on well-honed skills of legal analysis … by similarly strong skill in serving clients and a solid ethical grounding.”   It recommended that law schools “offer an integrated curriculum” that joins lawyering, professionalism and legal analysis from the start.  

Many of us have responded to the challenge of designing family law courses that begin to meet the aims identified by FLER and the Carnegie Foundation. We hope to address this challenge collectively through this initiative.

The FLER Project is developing a website that will be accessible to all family law professors.  The site will:

•       Compile simulation exercises and course syllabi which integrate skills training in interviewing, counseling, negotiation, representation in mediation and courtroom advocacy with substantive family law. Teacher’s guides and manuals for exercises will also be posted.

•       Include short discussion guides by recognized experts in social science, mental health and alternative dispute resolution affiliated with AFCC and familiar with FLER to help us integrate interdisciplinary perspectives into our courses on such issues as domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, developmental psychology, mediation, parenting evaluations, and unified family courts. The discussion guides will be prepared by experts who are not law professors and will summarize the latest research as well as emphasizing key points with which the expert believes law student should be familiar and will include references.

•       Allow us to post comments, suggestions and questions for those who develop particular exercises and materials on the website and those who use them.

We have already created exercises for the website focusing on:

•       Counseling a client about alternative dispute resolution options for resolving divorce disputes

•       Counseling a client who is a victim of domestic violence

•       Reviewing a draft surrogacy agreement

•       Developing a direct and cross examination of a court appointed mental health expert in a child custody dispute

The FLER Project website is sponsored by AFCC, Hofstra Law School’s Center for Children, Families and the Law, and William Mitchell College of Law.  It will be hosted and maintained by Hofstra Law School.

Through the website, we hope to be able to make the posted material available to all law schools and law professors at virtually no cost. We also hope that the website will encourage us all to engage in a continuing dialogue about how to educate family lawyers for future professional practice.

We will serve as the editorial committee for the website in its initial stages of development. We anticipate that the website will “go live” during the fall 2008 semester with the first set of exercises that have been drafted, as well as with additional materials, including discussion guides.  We regard the website as a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions, comments and reactions.

We shall solicit all of you for potential postings of exercises and other relevant pedagogical tools later in the summer and look forward to receiving them. To make the FLER website as useful as possible, we will need help from all of you. 

We look forward to working with you as the website’s development progresses.

Sincerely,

 

Naomi Cahn, George Washington University Law School

Andrew Schepard, Hofstra Law School

Nancy Ver Steegh, William Mitchell College of Law

Peter Salem, Executive Director, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts 

 

 

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