AALS Annual Meeting- Focus on Evaluation

The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Clinical Legal Education joined with the Section on Professional Responsibility to sponsor a program at the 2009 AALS Annual Meeting.  The first panel focused on  the development of legal ethics in law schools and the effects of clinical legal education on graduates.  I will post something about that panel in the next few days, but this post will focus on the second panel- which was entitled ” Innovative Curricular Developments:  Implementing Best Practices for Educating Lawyers.”  This panel demonstrated methods for providing criteria-referenced evaluations in real-client clinical courses as well as for use in simulations.  

The first two speakers were Dean Philip Plowden and Associate Dean Kevin Kerrigan from the University of Northumbria School of Law.  They discussed the methodology they employ for providing criteria referenced evaluations to students engaged in client representation, and they used a video clip of a client counseling session to engage the audience and demonstrate how their assessment tools work in practice.  They noted that the goals of criteria-referenced evaluations are consistency, transparency, and fairness.  The evaluation criteria are shared with students in advance, so the expectations are clear.  They also listed the grade descriptors which are currently in use, and those are available at http://www.studentlawoffice.co.uk.  

The next speaker was Professor Lawrence Grosberg, New York Law School.  Larry demonstrated several evaluation techniques he has developed for simulation courses and simulation components in doctrinal classes.  Using actors, Larry and New York Law School have implemented a version of the “standardized client,” modeled after medical schools’ use of standardized patients, to provide more consistent evaluations to students on their interviewing and counseling skills.  Larry also demonstrated a CD Rom that he developed that includes scenes of lawyers in action that student view and are evaluated on their responses to questions about the performances.  

Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, University of New Mexico, was the moderator/commentator, and she briefly discussed some of her work around assessment that has been inspired by her collaborations with the Medical School at her university.

All of the speakers and their demonstrations showed that more care and attention to evaluation in clinical and simulation courses are not only desirable but also attainable.  Criteria referenced evaluations are extremely useful for formative and summative evaluations.  Although Philip and Kevin noted that there may still be some variation in how different faculty apply the criteria in evaluations, having and applying clearly articulated, specific criteria in evaluations is much better for students and faculty.

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