Readying students for a 21st Century Education

In response to my previous post, sgeorge326 “wonder[s] how schools can achieve this lofty goal?” of learning “how to identify prospective students or develop admitted ones who understand their life goals and values, and their intellectual and personal gifts well enough to make intelligent decisions around specialization”.

Here are five steps toward that goal AND ideas for achieving them:

1.  Encourage students to gain experience in the workplace before attending law school, especially in jobs that expose them to lawyers,.and to reflect on what they learned about lawyers and themselves.

  •  Focus admissions essays around these questions
  • Develop pipeline programs for students who are 1st in their family to attend college or from underrepresented groups.  Provide them with pre-law contact with lawyers and the opportunities to work in a law office that are often available to upper middle class students with family contacts

2. Help students understand what lawyers do.

3. Incorporate the work of lawyers into first year courses.

  •  Assign court observations for first year courses, especially criminal law and civil procedure, or school wide as in Drake Law’s Trial Practicum
  •  Use course materials that expose students to the work of lawyers, including both litigation and transactions — motions and supporting documents, real contracts, deeds, etc. (The major publishers all offer such materials.)
  • Incorporate simulations into existing 1L courses or separate problem solving courses or skills labs.
  • involve students in real legal work as described by The New 1L: First-Year Lawyering With Clients

4. Infuse experiential education throughout the curriculum.

  • Include simulation modules in doctrinal courses, or attach them as separate small-credit courses
  • Offer a range of theory and practice simulation skill-focused courses, in-house clinics, and externships to students throughout their legal education
  • Link volunteer pro bono opportunities to the formal curriculum
  • Counsel students on how best to sequence experiential offerings given their interests

5.  And, perhaps most important, but still the biggest stretch for most law schools, help students both understand the importance of learning about their life goals and values and intellectual and personal gifts and provide opportunities for them to do so.

  • Hire coaches in the career office with a job description that includes helping students develop both self and career knowledge, provide them with tools such as personality tests, skills inventories, and similar tools, and connect them with the faculty so their efforts are part of the educational process
  • Encourage faculty to view their role as also including efforts to help student develop self-knowledge in arenas beyond the intellectual
  • Focus the externship program around developing a professional identity
  • Incorporate opportunities for reflection on goals and gifts in both doctrinally-focused and experiential courses

As the links in the above paragraphs demonstrate, many schools already one or more of these individual ideas in place.  The now ABA-required process of identifying outcomes (Standard 302), including in assessment of student learning both formative feedback and summative grading (Standard 314), and assessing program outcomes (Standard 315) could be implemented in ways that encourage additional student progress in these important areas.

The new volume “Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World” should be available in ebook format from LexisNexis by the end of the month.  It includes more ideas and details. Readers, you undoubtedly have additional ideas — share them!

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