2008 ABA Associate Dean’s Conference: Changing Role of the Associate Dean

The ABA holds an associate deans conference every other year.  In the past, as associate dean for clinical affairs, I looked at it, and thought it was not as relevant to my work as the clinical director’s conferences put on by the AALS.  So, I had never attended the conference. However, I must say that this conference was marvelous.  And, many of the sessions were really applicable to the big picture of running a law school and many issues in which clinical teachers are interested.   The conference opened with small groups featuring “a day in the life” which was a series of emails detailing little to big administrative issues…ranging from an emergency medical problem in the law school to student complaints about late grades.   Chief among the presentations was a presentation by Judith Wegner on curricular reform and of course the Carnegie Report  that she co-authored.  The presentation focused on curricular reforms to help law schools improve legal education.   Of course, she went over the insights of the Carnegie Report and the three apprenticeships, but then she gave extremely helpful suggestions for helping a faculty improve teaching and assessment.  She also gave the associate deans attending several ideas about reforming a law school’s curriculum and about the importance of clinical experience.  Later in a one- on- one discussion she described her idea of asking students to put together portfolios and offering prizes and recognition for outstanding portfolios.  These assessment tools could be an alternative to the traditional ranked grading that law schools provide employers.  I thought about how this project could be easily replicated at my school, since students would have several first year writing projects, an upper division major writing requirement, usually completed through a seminar, and the many pleadings, letters and other pieces of writing in our required clinic which could easily be redacted to remove client confidential information, but could serve as evidence of the students’ skills.   I am definitely going to explore this idea with the other associate deans and our interim dean, Leo Romero.

As for my presentation, it was easy to build on the tour de force that was Judith’s presentation on Carnegie.  About seventy percent of the attendees indicated that they had a copy of the Best Practices book. And, I suggested that while the Carnegie Report described many of the problems with current legal education and gave a theoretical basis for transforming it, the Best Practices Book was a concrete roadmap for transformation.  The comments were based on a paper I wrote for the Seattle Law Review which is posted on the conference web site. The group discussed many of the changes occurring in law schools all over the country.  And, my co-panelists discussed curricular innovations at their schools.  Richard Perna discussed the dramatic revision of the curriculum at the University of Dayton School of Law and Russell Lovell discussed the first year one-week trial practicum developed at Drake University Law School.    For more information about the conference, check out the conference website.The conference materials are posted on the website.  You had to be there though to taste the delicious finger food, listen to the Native American flute music and enjoy the DU School of Law reception hosted by Dean Beto Juarez at its stunning law school building. 

http://www.abanet.org/legaled/calendar/conferences/associatedeansconference/associatedeansconf.html

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