Law Schools Going Beyond Learning Outcomes Mandated by ABA

Having taken part in two recent symposia on learning outcomes (PLOs) in legal education, I was encouraged to see the number of law schools that are taking advantage of the recognized pedagogical benefits of adopting and assessing learning outcomes. As most law professors now know, ABA Standards require the adoption of learning outcomes. These standards also mandate programmatic assessment of whether students are attaining these outcomes. ABA Standard 302 dictates certain PLOs that all schools must adopt (e.g., knowledge of substantive and procedural law, legal analysis, research, and writing skills.) However, I saw evidence at each symposium that schools are going beyond the mandatory PLOs and are shaping their learning outcomes for knowledge, skills, and values beyond the minimum. That phenomenon suggest schools recognize the pedagogical value of outcome-based education and are seeking to provide more than the minimum.

The first symposium was entitled “The Next Steps of a Professional Formation Social Movement,” at St. Thomas School of Law on February 16-18–https://www.stthomas.edu/law/events/ symposium-21717.html One of the primary themes of the conference was that between thirty and forty law schools had adopted learning outcome that incorporated professional formation, consistent with the third apprenticeship advocated by the Carnegie Institute’s Educating Lawyers. Because ABA Standard 302 does not require such learning outcomes, the efforts of a growing number of schools to include them show a recognition of the significance of Carnegie’s emphasis on the need to do a better job of helping law student to develop a professional identity as they learn doctrine and lawyering skills. The conference explored professional formation learning outcomes in medical and military education and suggested potential points of comparison to law teaching, the conference further reported new data suggesting that the growing professional formation movement is consistent with the goals of law students. Finally, participants formed working groups to continue with the work necessary to keep the momentum going for the role of professional identity formation in legal education. In short, the symposium demonstrated the steady increase of faculty and schools advocating for integration of professional identity formation into the legal curriculum. See http://beyondtherule.blogspot.com/2017/ 02/cefler-cosponsors-symposium-on.html. The results of the symposium will appear in St. Thomas Law Journal’s upcoming symposium issue.

The University of Detroit-Mercy Law Review also hosted a symposium, on March 2, 2017, which reviewed the impact of learning outcomes and assessment—both institutional assessment of the degree to which students attain the outcomes law schools state as objectives, and more creative assessment in law school classes in the form of both formative and multiple summative assessments — http://www.udetmercylrev.com/symposium/outcome-measure-legal-education-symposium. The symposium highlighted again PLOs being adopted by a wide range of schools that exceed the minimum of ABA Standard 302.   The message of such a response to the advent of learning outcomes in legal education seems to be clear: law schools are willing to use this proven method of ensuring educational quality to improve their programs, not just in the least possible way but in a manner that will help law students achieve the most from their time in school.

These are but some examples of a broader movement in legal education improve pedagogy not only in the classroom (e.g., more formative assessments) but throughout the program (institutional reforms). Despite fears of widespread recalcitrance, a substantial number of law schools appear to be making a genuine effort to improve their programs.

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Competencies-Based Legal Education

[This was originally posted by the Clayton Christensen Institute on Disruptive Innovation]

 Last week, I discussed why law schools need to respond to the changing marketplace for legal services and legal education.  In thinking about how best to prepare for that changing world, law schools need to consider how competency-based educational models can be employed to advance educational objectives for students seeking to enter the market for legal services.  As Michael Horn and I explain in our new whitepaper, Disrupting Law School, regulatory protections that have sheltered law schools from competition will continue to subside.  In this new environment, law schools need to reimagine themselves as educators for students interested in learning about the legal services sector, not simply those seeking a JD.

One way to do this is to think about legal education from a blank slate.  Rather that try to retrofit our current pedagogy to address 21st century needs, instead we need to think about it from its inception — if one were to start a school today to educate those who want a career in the legal services field, what would that school look like?

Upstart competency-based education programs have done just that in other parts of higher education.  They provide at least three new considerations for traditional law school as they begin to think about and prepare for the future.

1. Time is no longer the measure of accomplishment

Online competency-based learning reverses the traditional relationship in education between time and student learning. In the traditional educational model, time is fixed while each student’s learning is variable. With online competency-based learning, the relationship between time and learning is reversed — time becomes the variable and each student’s learning becomes essentially fixed. Students process at their own pace, moving from topic to topic upon mastery of each. Those who need more time to master a concept before moving on to the next take the time they need, while others move ahead to the next set of material and learning objectives.

2. Centrality of competencies, learning outcomes, and assessments

Online competency-based programs shift the teaching pedagogy toward student-centered learning. In an online, competency-based program, faculty and instructional designers start by identifying the competencies students must master to achieve the desired learning outcomes and then work through each to understand how a student would demonstrate mastery of those objectives. Through constant feedback, students know how they are doing and what they need to do next and teachers can determine when students have mastered competencies and are ready to move forward. The assessments in other words are both forward looking—assessments that help determine what a student studies nextand backward looking —assessments that indicate whether a student has mastered the material.

3.  Modularization of course material provides more flexibility and different business models

Online competency-based learning is also changing key elements of the traditional higher education business model. Online technologies make it possible to modularize the learning process—that is, to break usual semester-long courses into shorter learning units or modules, which can be studied in sequence or separately. When material is packaged in online modules, it is easier to use for multiple educational purposes and multiple audiences in different combinations.

Stackable modules allow students to create individualized curricula based on their own learning goals and objectives. For students who attend law school knowing the area of law in which they want to practice—a segment of the student body currently underserved due to limited course offerings in any one topic at any one law school—modules open up opportunities to stack credentials from multiple sources. The long tail of the Internet opens up these opportunities; there may be sufficient student demand if online courses can aggregate demand and serve students from around the country or even the world.

Modules also eliminate duplication and optimize teaching resources. This flexible architecture can create an entirely new business model for law-related education. When learning is broken down into competencies—rather than semester-long courses—modules of learning can be packaged into different scalable programs for very different audiences—for example, paralegals, legal technicians, law students, lawyers (CLE), judges, administrative agencies, non-JDs working in law-related fields, foreign students, high school/college moot court teams, undergraduate students, journalists, clients, life-long learners, and so forth.  The possibilities abound.

This exercise can take us in a lot of different directions.  Every direction, though, will ask us to change and move beyond the status quo.  While change is hard, it is also necessary.  I hope our whitepaper provides sufficient impetus to get started.

The 25 Most Important Lawyering Skills?

In discussing bar exam reform in my earlier post, I referenced the results of this job analysis survey of newly licensed attorneys. The attorneys, all in practice for three years or less, were asked to rate the significance to their jobs of various skills or abilities (e.g., legal reasoning, organizational skills, written communication) and various knowledge domains (e.g., Rules of Evidence, Contract Law, Rules of Civil Procedure). Ever since I first saw the results, I have been taken with one particular statistic: The respondents rated 25 different skills or abilities as more significant to their jobs than the highest rated knowledge domain.

After the results came out, I looked more closely at these 25 skills and organized them into five broader skill categories. (My chart, which includes all 25 skills and each one’s average rating on a scale of 1 to 4, is below.) I then led a discussion on the importance of all of this to legal education at a legal writing conference last spring. Some of the colleagues in attendance offered insightful and practical comments that I’d like to share here.

One suggested that the 25 skills are a good starting point for formulating a new course to satisfy the ABA’s expanded practical skills requirement in the new Standard 303(a)(3). Others suggested that my chart, or something akin to it, could be a means for identifying and measuring learning outcomes for “other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession” under Standard 302(d), or additional learning outcomes under Interpretation 302-2.

I hope that many in legal education will find this chart, my colleagues’ ideas, and the overall survey results to be valuable tools. And, if anyone has feedback on how to revise the chart to make it a more useful tool, please get in touch.

Communication Analysis Research Project Management Professionalism
Written communication 3.77 Critical reading & comprehension 3.55 Computer skills 3.28 Paying attention to details 3.67 Professionalism 3.58
Listening 3.60 Synthesizing facts & law 3.55 Electronic researching 3.26 Using office technologies 3.56 Judgment 3.29
Oral communication 3.58 Legal reasoning 3.54 Fact gathering & evaluation 3.22 Knowing when to go back & ask ?s 3.46 Diligence 3.26
Interpersonal skills 3.44 Issue spotting 3.43 Organizational skills
3.46
Answering questions succinctly 3.30 Information integrating 3.10 Working within established time constraints 3.44  
Advocacy 3.24 Decisiveness 3.31
Consciousness of limitations 3.15
Planning & strategizing 3.13

 

Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

A Survey Instrument for Cultural Sensibility Learning Outcomes

As law schools begin to grapple with identifying and measuring law student learning outcomes, cultural sensibility [a.k.a. cultural competence] should be on the learning outcomes list. A validated survey instrument has been developed to help measure some aspects of cultural sensibility learning: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2451300.  The instrument helps measure students’ understanding that we all have multifaceted cultural backgrounds, experiences, and biases that affect how we perceive and analyze legal problems and how we interact with clients and colleagues.

As lawyers, we must recognize and grapple with our own biases and stereotypes, as well as the influence cultural factors and systemic racism have had, and continue to have, upon the US legal system. As I note in a forthcoming Nevada Law Journal article: “While racial categories are artificial constructs, there is a long and ongoing history of real differences in the treatment and, therefore, collective experiences of “racial” groups. Those experiences influence how we perceive and assess facts, attitudes, legal problems and legal processes.”

An integral part of legal education involves developing law students’ abilities to identify their own cultural biases and helping future lawyers understand how those cultural perspectives and biases impact their legal analyses and interactions. There are many learning outcomes that contribute to law students’ cultural sensibility knowledge, attitudes and skills, many of which may be measured in various experiential learning and doctrinal courses.

The survey instrument measures some over-arching cultural sensibility learning outcomes, such as recognizing that: 1. one’s own cultural experiences affect how one views the legal system; 2. legal training in “rational thinking” does not insulate lawyers and judges from our own cultural biases; 3. subconscious cognitive processes hinder our ability to identify when we are acting based upon biases and stereotypes, and 4. we need to withhold judgment about others’ behaviors.

The survey instrument may be administered to students as they enter law school and shortly before they graduate. While we did not administer the survey to the same cohort of law students as they entered and then graduated, we did administer it to 309 entering law students and 281 upper level students. Amongst those students, we found that upper level students had a better understanding that one’s own cultural experiences affect how one views legal problems and interacts with clients. To the extent that cultural sensibility education requires that baseline understanding, the survey instrument is one way to measure some aspects of cultural sensibility learning.

At this June’s AALS Workshop on Measuring Learning Gains, Professor Raquel Aldana and I will continue the dialogue on how else one might measure cultural sensibility learning outcomes across the curriculum.

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