Update from AALS Conference on Integrating Clinical Pedagogy Across Curriculum

BLOG POST Authored by:
Mayer, Connie
Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Raymond and Ella Smith Distinguished Professor of Law
Albany Law School

I just returned from the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. this past weekend where I had the honor of helping to plan the session entitled, “Integrating Clinical Pedagogy Across the Curriculum: Making it Work.” The session was co-sponsored by the Section on Clinical Legal Education and the Section on Teaching Methods. A panel of very dedicated law faculty highlighted how clinical methods can be used effectively in non-clinical courses to enhance learning. Two panelists, Professor Alice Abreu (Temple) and Professor Ray Brescia (Albany), described their use of live clients in teaching Tax Policy and Practice and Law and Social Innovation. They highlighted their use of clinical methods including problem-solving in a real world setting, reflection, and live client interaction. Three panelists, Professor Kenneth Klein (California Western), Professor Nicole Iannarone (Georgia State), and Professor Brian Krumm (Tennessee), discussed their use of simulations, reflection, professional role plays, and collaborative learning in teaching their courses (Representing Enterprises, Professional Responsibility, and Civil Procedure, respectively).

Given the new focus on experiential learning, both from the ABA and from employers seeking to hire graduates who are more ready to take on their professional roles, the burden (and reward) of seeing students develop their professional identity through clinical methodology cannot be solely on the shoulders of the clinic, though the clinic will remain the focal point for experiential learning. There is “added value,” however, if faculty teaching non-clinical courses also adopt some of the clinic methods that are known to promote deeper learning.

The session raised some very interesting questions that we need to continue to explore. If simulations are used in a non-clinical course, how much time should be devoted to teaching the skill being used? For example, if students are asked to negotiate a problem with the goal of enhancing their understanding of the subject matter area, how are they taught about the process of negotiation? If individual faculty members integrate certain clinical methods, how are they coordinated with one another and with the work of the clinic? Are the courses sequenced (or can they be) so that students begin to learn skills and develop a professional identity in a more intensely supervised setting and then move on to non-clinical courses where they can practice those skills in a less supervised setting? How can the success described by the panelists be used to promote broader curricular change?

As a former clinical teacher, I use clinical methods in my non-clinical courses and I find them rewarding and an important way to enhance learning. As the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, I encourage faculty to use clinical methods in non-clinical courses. But there is a need to coordinate these individual efforts and think through how to place in order the opportunities for experiential learning that we offer. We are lucky to house the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching, directed by Professor Mary Lynch, who organizes regular workshops on teaching that provide a platform for discussion of these issues. The clinical conference in the spring on “The New Normal” will also help us continue this conversation.

Thanks to our wonderful moderator, Professor Jane Aiken (Georgetown), to committee member Professor Lisa Reel Schmidt, and to our hard-working co-chairs, Professor Joy Radice (Tennessee) and Professor Spencer Rand (Temple) for a very inspirational session!

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