Cultivating Self-Directedness among Law Students

The Legal Academy’s efforts to respond to the Carnegie Report’s call for more attention to the “third apprenticeship,” i.e., helping law students to develop a “professional identity,” continues to gain momentum.   I see that not only in increased scholarship on the topic, but also personally from taking part in presentations.   One in particular was a symposium last year at University of St. Thomas Law School, co-sponsored by three other schools that have promoted this movement (Georgetown, Pepperdine, and Regent) designed to measure how far legal education had progressed in the 25 years after the MaCrate Report first introduced the idea that legal education should including features such as professional formation.

Schools that have consistently shown an interest in pursuing ethical professional formation met at that Symposium and form “working groups” to continue, since then, to meet by Skype conference calls and develop assessment rubrics.   Because many law schools have been adopting learning outcomes that implicate formation of professional identity, see, the working groups decided to develop the rubrics as a way of helping schools to have methods to assess progress in particular characteristics of professional identity formation.  I joined the workgroup on Self-Directedness, which includes Professor Neil Hamilton (St. Thomas), Professor Kendall Kerew (GA State), Professor Nicole Iannarone (GA State), Associate Dean Rupa Bhandari, Professor Ann Novak (Touro Law), and me (Regent Law).  Professor Kerew has organized regular video-conferences of our team to work on the rubrics, which we store in a shared site in the Cloud.

Self-directedness, in particular self-directed learning, is a skill that students (and lawyers) need. In his book Self-Directing Learning, Malcolm Knowles defines self-directed learning as “a process by which individuals takes the initiative . . . in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying the human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Malcolm Knowles, Self-Directed Learning 18 (1975).

Intrigued by this concept, my colleague Natt Gantt and I surveyed students at a number of schools in two sets of surveys to highlight the significance of self-directedness.  In an article for the St. Thomas Law Journal, we report the contrasting survey results.  See  The first survey sought from students their top goals leaving law school. One of the top goals, ranking even higher than paying off student loans, was to find meaningful employment.   The other survey, of the same schools, asked students to fill in a survey that assessed the degree to which they possess self-directedness.  The results showed that most law students are lacking in this quality.   We observe in the article that students need to understand—have us “connect the dots” for them on this point—that if they are going to find meaningful employment, they need to cultivate self-directedness.   We then describe some of the schools that have initiatives designed to do just that.

In short, the professional identity movement continues.  As it does so, its benefits for legal education become even clearer.   We only hope that more schools agree and take advantage of the efforts of the working groups seeking to move the ball forward in this important area.


Teaching Transformation for Well-being

In his August 21, 2017 blog, John Lande offered cogent observations about the new report of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.  Noting the substantial stress that both law students and lawyers experience and the evidence that this stress contributes to the high incidence of substance abuse and mental illness among both groups, John opined that addressing the symptoms of these problems without taking on their causes was insufficient: in order to prevent these problems from arising, both the law school and the practice of law require cultural change.  I agree, although my interest in work towards such a shift has taken a different direction.  John quotes from the report: “Our legal system is adversarial—it’s rooted in conflict.”    Of course, conflict is inevitable.  But is an adversarial legal system inevitable?  I suggest that adversarialism need not remain its dominant paradigm.

This cultural transformation has been incubating in a growing segment of the profession and the academy for at least the past three decades.  Examples include Collaborative Law, Restorative Justice, Therapeutic Jurisprudence, Integrative law, and Humanizing Legal Education, among other developments in the law, seeking healthier, happier paths to achieve justice and practice law.  By introducing law students as well as lawyers to more healing, relational and therapeutic ways to be a lawyer, resolve conflicts and achieve justice, we can increase the chances that they will choose careers more consistent with balance and well-being—for themselves and for their clients.

Humanizing Legal Education

At the end of the last century, propelled by the energy and commitment of Professor Lawrence Krieger[1] from Florida State University, whose work is likely well known to the readers of this forum, a group of law professors forged an online Humanizing Legal Education (HLE) community.  In 2009, that community achieved permanent status in the American Association of Law Schools (AALS), becoming the Balance in Legal Education (Balance) section.  A primary goal of HLE and the Balance section is the enhancement of student well-being.  Many law professors, not only around the country but around the world, have been reforming how they teach to compassionately support their students in constructively managing the inevitable stress of legal education.  This is what Healing Classrooms, the chapter I contributed to the recently published book, Transforming Justice, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law, is about.[2]

Healing Classrooms, the reader may already have noticed, is a double entendre, one that deliberately captures two modalities for humanizing legal education generally and teaching transformation in particular.  Examples of atypical courses discussed elsewhere in Transforming Practices include Susan Brooks’ Communicating for Success, Victor Goode’s Contemplative Practice, Rhonda Magee’s Introduction to Race Law and my seminar Transforming Justice and Lawyering (New Paradigms in Law and Lawyering), discussed below.  These are courses outside the mainstream curriculum, focusing on skills, values, and content to support alternative approaches to practicing law and achieving justice.  The former, and by far the most common, are those that, while part of the mainstream curriculum, are taught by faculty attuned to and concerned with the emotional well-being of their students and the lawyers they will become.  These teachers proactively, consciously endeavor to humanize all the classes they teach.  They approach legal education holistically.  Much as integrative lawyers relate to their clients as whole persons, not just legal issues or “files,” these teachers regard their students as individuals, each of whom brings to the classroom her unique set of experiences, challenges, joys and sorrows.  They deliver traditional academic content informed by best practices in teaching and learning theory, including nonjudgmental compassion.  Their classrooms serve as antidotes to the too often toxic effects of traditional legal education.

Faculty I have encountered who fall into either or both categories are too many to mention, but Appendix A in Transforming Justice highlights the course offerings of many who have inspired me in my journey as a teacher.  Appendix B, also undeniably incomplete, includes the names of many others who are dedicated to humanizing their classrooms and supporting the healthy development of their students.  There is no doubt that their legions will grow, as the Legal Academy, much like society as a whole, accepts the indisputable connection between the well-being of its graduates and the fulfillment of its mission to educate lawyers as part of a helping profession.  Our students are much the better for these efforts.

Humanizing the Profession

In the spring of 2015 I began to teach a dedicated seminar with an experiential component, Transforming Justice and Lawyering.  The course serves as an overview of the Integrative Law Movement.[3]  Students learn about collaborative law, restorative justice, treatment-based (problem-solving) courts, transformative mediation, and other approaches to practicing law, resolving controversies and administering criminal justice outside of the traditional adversarial paradigms, in ways that aspire to enhance the well-being of participants and engender relational and healing outcomes in matters that might otherwise end up in acrimonious or punitive litigation.  Students spend an average of four to five hours per week in one or more of these settings, learning from those who are solution-oriented judges and lawyers practicing in these transformative paradigms.  In addition, students learn about mindfulness, emotional competence, and effective communication, all of which help students develop both self-awareness and awareness of others.  The course also emphasizes the importance of self-care, health, and well-being to the sustainable practice of law.

Transforming Justice and Lawyering offers students the choice to be different kinds of lawyers—lawyers who can enhance their clients’ well-being and their own.  Lawyers who can contribute to address the brokenness of justice-involved persons through appropriate resources and treatment, rather than incarceration.  And the students meet lawyers and judges who have enriched their own lives as well as those they represent, supervise, or serve through work that they love.  Whether these students ultimately seek employment in these settings or not, they are able to experience that there are many ways to be a lawyer, and many ways to find joy and satisfaction in the practice of law.  By introducing them to a number of humanistic innovations in processes and settings designed to achieve justice and resolve disputes, they are better able to critically examine how well the adversarial system of justice and traditional law practice succeed, or fail to succeed, in enhancing the well-being of all stakeholders.

However, it doesn’t require a dedicated course to expose students to these alternative practices.  In both my Professional Responsibility course and Civil Externship seminar, I spend some time exploring the range of careers and settings available to those with a law license, and make sure to discuss these practices as well.[4]

For example, I have included restorative and collaborative practices in the ADR segment of my Civil Dispute Resolution and Procedure course. Criminal Law and Procedure professors might introduce Restorative Practices and Treatment (Problem-solving) Courts in their courses, and compare the potential for therapeutic outcomes for participants in such processes with the punitive, retributive nature of our criminal justice system.  As restorative justice is increasingly used as an alternative to suspension in elementary and secondary schools, those who teach courses on Juvenile Justice and Education Law might incorporate coverage of such practices.   Family Law courses could contrast the benefits and drawbacks of the collaborative process with divorce litigation.  By learning about alternative roles focused on practicing law as a helping, healing profession, law students are able to expand their conceptions of the professionals they might become and envision increased possibilities for being healthy and happy in their chosen profession.

Changing legal culture is an evolutionary process.  As J. Kim Wright’s new book, Lawyers as Changemakers[5] documents, the Integrative Law Movement is spreading throughout the world.  Perhaps it will never become the dominant paradigm in the United States, but those of us who might like to see a kinder, healthier legal culture, have an obligation to introduce our students to these possibilities as part of their legal education.

[1] The empirical research conducted by Larry, and his colleague and collaborator, Ken Sheldon, has likely done more to identify and address the causes of law school distress than any other work.  See Lawrence S. Krieger & Kennon M. Sheldon, Ph.D., What Makes Lawyers Happy? Transcending the Anecdotes with Data from 6200 Lawyers, 83 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 554 (2015); Kennon M. Sheldon & Lawrence S. Krieger, Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test of Self-determination Theory, 33 Personality Soc. Psychol. Bull. 883 (2007); Kennon M. Sheldon & Lawrence S. Krieger, Does Legal Education Have Undermining Effects on Law Students? Evaluating Changes in Motivation, Values, and Well-Being, 22 Behav. Sci. Law 261 (2004).

[2] In my recently published book, Transforming Justice, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law (Marjorie A. Silver, ed. 2017), I have described some of these methods.  See ch. 9, Healing Classrooms 251-98.  Most of the remainder of this blog is adapted from that chapter.  Footnotes omitted.

[3] See infra, note 5 and accompanying text.

[4] The chapter I contributed to the text for externship programs, Learning from Practice, ch. 25, Work and Well-Being, includes a segment on the Integrative Law Movement.  Learning from Practice: A Text for Experiential Legal Educations 714-16 (Wortham, et al. eds., 3rd ed. 2016).

[5] J. Kim Wright, Lawyers as Changemakers:  The Global Integrative Law Movement (2016)

Forbes article focusing on law schools, competencies and skills development

Earlier this week, Forbes contributor Mark A. Cohen discussed what he calls “the interdependency — and misalignment —   of law school stakeholders.”  Cohen refers to a comment in a recent speech by Mark Smolik, the general counsel of DHL Supply Chain Americas, that  “he would no longer subsidize on-the-job-training of law firm associates.”  According to Cohen, Smolick’s remarks are an

indictment of the Academy for its failure to produce practice-ready graduates with required skillsets and a swipe at law firms for their failure to more fully invest in associate training to drive client value.

Cohen is urging today’s law students to look to the marketplace for “efficient, accessible, cost-effective, and just-in-time learning tools available to fill knowledge gaps and to teach new skills.” He boasts about one product that produces “high quality videos” and uses “flipped classrooms.”

I don’t disagree that law schools need to transform faster, provide more skill building,  emphasize the business context in which lawyers are hired to help, and prepare law students for the team realities of today and tomorrow’s economy.  And I appreciate Cohen’s raising this issue and inviting discussion. But his claim that only a “handful” of law schools are savvy on these issues – or as he put it have “yet to read the memo” – made my Irish blood boil. Maybe it is because it is the end of the week and I’m just tired? Maybe it is because I  just recently (September 13th) hosted yet another Flipping (every pun intended) workshop at our school showcasing all the great work being done by my colleagues in flipping their classroom? Maybe it is because if Cohen googled law schools and flipping classrooms,  he would have found Michele Pistone’s fabulous LegalED information? Maybe it is because he could have found this blogsite pretty high up on that google search and clicked on a number of posts such as here and here  and here and here and here  and here ?  Maybe it is because  nobody is noticing the work of folks like my faculty colleague Antony Haynes on innovative online opportunities?

I invite you to read the article, see what you think and tell us on this blog about what Cohen missed happening at your school!

Experience with Peer Support, Peer Review and Feedback on Teaching?  

We are all familiar with engagement in peer review of scholarship. Law faculty culture prioritizes peer input and review of scholarly ideas and articles. Sending drafts of articles to colleagues for feedback, “workshopping” preliminary ideas, and vetting scholarship is part and parcel of the work we do. We visit other schools, make presentations and attend conferences because we value peer discussion and  input. It is the basis by which we create and communicate knowledge.

I don’t believe, however, we have a similarly pervasive culture for formative peer review when it comes to teaching in law schools, although such culture exists at other higher education institutions. According to The University of Texas Faculty Innovation Center, an academic culture which prioritizes informed peer collaboration, review and input on teaching benefits everyone,

Good teachers continually learn and develop. Peer Review, which combines the examination of course materials with in-class observations and collegial discussion, helps prompt this learning among faculty. Ideally, these interactions and conversations can create opportunities for us as colleagues to reflect on and adapt our teaching practices in order to become better teachers and increase student learning.

Northeastern University Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Research recommends a four step process:

  • Initial conversation between the observer and the observed
  • The observation itself as an informal data collection and distillation process
  • Follow-up conversation in which the observer shares the observations and collaborates with the observed teacher in any kind of brainstorming or troubleshooting that the observations invite.
  • Reflective summary written by the observed instructor, integrating what was learned from the process and how this will influence future teaching.

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching includes the goal of “enabling more intentional and mutually supportive communities of scholar teachers.”

It is true that we have made some progress in elevating the role of teaching in law schools in the past decade. Legal Education certainly woke up to the need for a culture change around curriculum and teaching following the publication of Best Practices for Legal Education  and Educating Lawyers.  The economic downturn heavily affected the admission process and the need to focus on student learning. ABA requirements regarding student learning outcomes also redirected attention and resources towards what students actually learn while in law school. Moreover, organized efforts such as the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning  and the AALS Section on Teaching Methods  have converted many to the idea that teaching and learning are matters worthy of scholarship, innovation and peer discussion.  Places like this blog and others support exchange of ideas, methods and innovations.

It is also true that as far back as 2008, pioneering legal scholars Gerry Hess and Sophie Sparrow studied factors which encourage or assist the professional development of law teachers including peer observation. So there are many resources available to improve teaching in law schools. Yet, across the academy, are we truly immersed in a continual process of formative feedback for law teachers? If so, the web shows little evidence of it.

I think some of the culture gap is explained by the fact that historically peer review of teaching only happened during a promotion and tenure process that resulted in an up or out decision by the faculty — hardly a formative approach. A voluntary formative program of peer support and review – not used for personnel decisions – should allay those fears.  Appropriate concerns about interference with academic freedom in the classroom might explain some of the culture gap. Except that, even more concerns about academic freedom arise with respect to peer input into “controversial scholarship,” since draft writings can be more easily captured and reproduced than can observations of a single class session. What I think explains the gap, instead, is that we have not properly trained or equipped law faculty with the tools and methods for conducting and receiving helpful peer observations.

At Albany Law, we have promoted a culture of inquiry around teaching and learning for many years now — colleagues sit in each others classrooms from time to time, our Academic Dean prioritizes teaching support, our Center for Excellence in Law Teaching showcases teaching ideas and invites collegial discussion through teaching workshops, and our Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology facilitates flipped classrooms and other innovations. What we haven’t done is formalize a voluntary peer support and review program. This year, we are planning to revisit our very loose approach and learn from the ever evolving resources and experimentation of others.

So readers, contributors and chance internet searchers, please post here what if any processes have you implemented to support peer observation of law teaching? Is it a voluntary program as we envision at Albany? How has it worked? Or, if you have an opinion about faculty peer review programs, let us know what you think!

I hope to compile the results and report back later in the year!

P.S. If you are more comfortable with e-mail than a blog comment, feel free to contact me at 

Kiser’s Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer

I was really pleased to meet Randall Kiser at a recent conference.  I was very impressed by his important study (co-authored with Martin Asher and Blakeley McShane), Let’s Not Make a Deal: An Empirical Examination of Decision Making in Unsuccessful Negotiations.  The top-line finding was that in 85.5% of cases, parties went to trial when one of the parties would have been better off to accept the other side’s last offer.  Plaintiffs received an award less than or equal to the defendant’s last offer in 61.2% of the cases and defendants were ordered to pay more than the plaintiff’s last demand in 24.3% of the cases.

Randy is the principal analyst at DecisionSet®, which consults with lawyers and law firms to improve their effectiveness.  He has written several books including Beyond Right and Wrong: The Power of Effective Decision Making For Attorneys and Clients and How Leading Lawyers Think: Expert Insights Into Judgment and Advocacy.

He just came out with an excellent new book, Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer, continuing his work to help lawyers do and be the best they can.  He defines soft skills as including “intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies such as practical problem solving, stress management, self-confidence, initiative, optimism, interpersonal communication, the ability to convey empathy to another, the ability to see a situation from another’s perspective, teamwork, collaboration, client relations, business development, and the like” (quoting Susan Daicoff).

He presents research showing that legal clients especially value these skills in lawyers.  Much research on lawyers, such as the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System’s “Foundations of Practice” study, shows that many practicing lawyers also highly value these skills – often much more than the skills we generally emphasize in law school.

Many readers of this blog would recognize these as precisely the skills we focus on in our theory, teaching, and practice.  The chapters deal with self-awareness, self-development, social proficiency, wisdom, leadership, and professionalism.  Each of these subjects include quite a number of specific skills.

The book synthesizes a great deal of research on psychology and lawyers, citing numerous empirical studies.  Teachers probably wouldn’t assign this as a required reading, but it would be useful as a recommended reading for law students who want to get a head-start on honing skills that they will really need after graduation.  It would also be of interest to faculty and administrators for decisions about what to emphasize in their courses and academic support activities.  Scholars interested in this subject would find this book of particular value.



Survey of Applied Legal Education

Report on 2016-17 Survey of Applied Legal Education Now Available

The Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education’s (CSALE) report on “The 2016-17 Survey of Applied Legal Education” is now available: Over 1,100 law clinic and externship faculty from 187 law schools (94% of ABA accredited U.S. schools) participated in CSALE’s latest tri-annual survey. The 2016-17 survey (CSALE’s fourth) provides the most comprehensive, accurate picture to date of clinical legal education programs, courses, and faculty. The report summarizes the collective responses from schools and their faculty on questions relating to program design, capacity, administration, staffing, funding, and pedagogy, and the role of clinical legal education and educators in the legal academy. In addition to the report, upon request CSALE provides customized information on various aspects of the data to law schools, legal educators, scholars, and oversight agencies.

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