Sharing Best Practices in A Tough Economy

The economic downturn puts legal education at a crossroads indeed. Travel freezes, pay cuts, tuition increases, even furloughs: law schools have clearly not escaped current economic woes. How will the economy affect the drive to improve legal education? As the budget crunch hits law schools, one can expect steps to trim faculty, rely more on adjuncts, and attempt to increase classes to generate more tuition. None of these steps are likely to bode well for the forward progress of legal education reform.

Best Practices emphasizes the need for law schools to reach beyond the doctrinal and generalized critical analysis learning objectives that have been the “signature pedagogy” of the large enrollment classroom. In order to reach for learning objectives that make students more client ready, we need to be able to provide smaller classes, more opportunities for individualized practice and feedback, closer connections with faculty, and opportunities for service and clinical experience. This is an expensive proposition and one that is threatened by the current economy.

If there was ever a time that law schools needed to learn to collaborate to find economies and share resources, now is it. That cooperation might mean closer collaborations within the campus community or with local bench and bar, but it might also mean collaborations with other law schools. Sharing teaching resources is one important step toward this collaboration.

Recently CALI announced the launch of the Legal Education Commons, for which there will be a webinar this coming Friday the 27th to introduce interested faculty to the program. http://w.cali.org/blog/lec

The Family Law Education Reform Project has recently launched a website to share best practices teaching materials in teaching family and child law. http://www.flerproject.org/

While both projects are in their infancy, they are just the kinds of venues for collaboration that all of legal education needs to consider if we are to continue to improve legal education.

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2 Responses

  1. This is such a timely post. The economic situation makes it difficult to innovate as law schools strive to protect, preserve and nurture existing programs. We need to be creative and smart about using resources to encourage excellence in ensuring that our graduates have the tools they need to be competent professionals in their communities.

  2. Thank you, Barbara, for identifying some excellent resources for sharing best practices. At Albany Law, like everywhere else, the administration is looking to cut costs where it can. However, our Dean, Tom Guernsey, indicated that one place he will NOT cut is in relation to Best Practices. The Dean has promised to provide teaching stipends to faculty who redesign their courses and teaching plans in accordance with Best Practices. To do otherwise, would be “penny wise and pound foolish” — good effective teaching (which prepares students for the complexity of eventual practice) is attractive to applicants and their families, alumni donors, graduate job seekers and those in practice who need to hire well prepared lawyers who are ready to assume critical client duties. So in addition to sharing and collaborating, we may want to identify the “savings” which accrue when implementing best practices.

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