Purposes and Methods

By: David Barnhizer, Senior Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London; Visiting Professor (recurring) University of Westminster School of Law; Professor of Law Emeritus, Cleveland State University

The essay attached to this post is called “The Purposes and Methods of American Legal Education”.  Critiques will be much appreciated.  Clinical teachers are going through a period of reflection about their role in law schools, and reconsidering how they “fit” in the overall curriculum as represented in the design of the upcoming Clinical Conference in Seattle.  One of the central dynamics in the process involves the effects of “outcome assessments” on the future of law schools and on clinical legal education generally.   In thinking about outcome assessments it is important to consider what outcomes are the most important when the assessment mechanisms are being developed.  What goals should be assigned the highest priority and if they are identified in anything nearing a consensus, can they be accurately assessed in law school, shortly after law school, substantially after law school–or not at all?  In that regard, which of the priority outcomes are those that are best served or achieved through clinical education?

If they can be identified and assessed qualitatively, who controls the evaluation and proof processes?  The bar and the profit seeking testing companies will almost surely move into the outcome assessment market quickly for purposes of market capture.  The problem is that this is likely to result in another set of standardized tests similar to the process that has “dumbed down” elementary and secondary schools that have capitulated to the power of standardized tests that can become obstacles rather than aids to true education.  In the “Purposes and Methods” essay I have attempted to describe some fundamental flaws of traditional legal education and outlined educational goals and methods that seem to me to be ones we should consider when determining which ones ought to be a primary focus.  A core part of the analysis is the idea of methods that are “active” rather than “passive” and this obviously brings into play the “substantive method” of clinical education.  This essay also relates to the analysis offered in “Redesigning the American Law School” that should be available in the Michigan State Law Review by the end of March.  The analysis in “Redesigning” examines the implications of financial, technological, political and lawyer “oversupply” on law schools and the legal profession.  If anyone would like a reprint of the article please contact me individually.

Click here to read the paper.

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