Many, if not most, law schools conduct orientation for incoming first year students. Faculty may be significantly involved. Sometimes we might ask ourselves, in the hurry of early August, “Why are we doing this?!” And, “How come we didn’t schedule time last April to talk about changing orientation?” When faculties examine their orientation programs, we may start by asking what the purposes of orientation are. Welcoming students to the institution, or into the legal profession? Infusing them with a sense of higher purpose? Instilling professionalism? Or even just laying the logistical groundwork for the semester?
The risks of formalized orientation are obvious – overwhelming students with too much information, boring them to the point of disengagement, frustrating them with further delay before the long-awaited start to their law school studies. Even inspirational speakers (judges, famous graduates) or motivational ceremonies (e.g., pinning) may need to be retooled, when these traditions start to feel stale.
What really needs to be accomplished during orientation? Should faculty play a role, and if so, what should it be? Or is orientation best left to the administration?
Recently, to enable my own participation in first-year orientation, my elementary-age daughter was sent off to a week-long, overnight language camp. From the moment she entered the grounds, the camp counselors spoke to her in Swedish – the target language. Having no prior experience with the language, my 10-year-old felt the full impact of immersion-style language learning. Other than a brief conversation inside the cabin about rules, communications from and among staff – her teachers – took place in a language that was entirely new to her.
Should orientation of law students be designed to smooth the transition into law school, with the idea that comfortable students will be better positioned to learn? Or is it possibly more effective to immerse the students in our professional language and culture – as legal scholars, teachers, and lawyers – from the very beginning? Would recognizing and employing the power of “disorientation” actually better serve this purpose?
Some schools have revamped their initiation of new students in innovative ways (last I heard, Washburn has gone so far as to ban the use of the “O” word!). What about schools that haven’t yet reached such a turning point – are there key roles that faculty can and should play in being a part of what happens during the first few days new students arrive on campus?
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