Choosing Between Longterm Comprehensive Overhaul and Immediate but Small Steps?

A primary challenge in implementing legal education reform is asking institutions and their stakeholders to trust and have patience. Real reform, as described in Educating Lawyers and in Best Practices for Legal Education requires, in my humble opinion, prioritizing the long-lasting rewards that come with inclusive process, comprehensive analysis, thoughtful deliberation and time-intensive collaboration. I see these as the necessary ingredients for real reform. It also involves dealing with what Judith Wegner calls legal education’s “Wicked Problem.” (see previous blog post here)

However, sustaining the energy and commitment to create real reform, or even believing that such energy and commitment can be sustained, seems an impossible hurdle in some settings.

Professor and Dean Michael Cassidy offers in the September 2012 edition of the Boston College Law Review “an interim approach,”:

My goal in this essay is to offer a “self-help” remedy for faculty members and administrators interested in responding to the Carnegie Report’s call for greater emphasis on experiential education, but uninterested in waiting for the committee deliberations, reports, faculty votes, and tough resource trade-offs that lie ahead. We drag our heels at our own perils, and to the serious disadvantage of our current students. What follows is a description of nine changes that individual faculty members and deans can make now to improve the professional education of law students. While each initiative when viewed in isolation may seem modest, collectively they could have a huge impact on our programs.

The steps outlined in the article which can be found on SSRN here include exposure to foreign law, additional career path courses, as well as law practice management courses, and holding professional formation retreats for students, faculty and alums to discuss the values of the legal profession. These “retreats” would allow students to explore what it means to morally and ethically be a lawyer. Cassidy explains that the first five recommendations, which are pedagogical in nature, require changes by the individual faculty member, and can be found in some of the best law classrooms and employed by the best law professors in the field. The remaining recommendations require work from both students and Academic Deans to improve and expand on current practices in law schools. He concedes that his most “controversial” step is the ninth: that when looking to hire new professors, special attention should be paid to the amount of practical experience these new hires have in the field.

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