Lessons from “Counseling Our Students” (Mini-Plenary at AALS Conference on Clinical Education)

At the recent AALS Conference on Clinical Education two additional sessions provided important insights from experts iin other disciplines on how to operate effectively in the midst of the current period of change in legal education.

Wednesday;s Mini-Plenary on Counseling Our Students In the New Normal included an inspiring guest speaker who was even more impressive as a listener.

Moderated by Mercer’s Tim Floyd, the session began with a helpful overview of the current state of the job market (bottom line:  recovering, slowly) by Abraham Pollack, GW’s  Professional Development dean. But the centerpiece of the session was Carolyn McKanders, Co-Director and Director or Organizational Culture, Thinking Collaborative and, not incidentally, mother of Tennessee’s Karla McKanders,

Carolyn brilliantly demonstrated “cognitive coaching” (check out the app!) in an unscripted coaching session that allowed Mary Lynch (yes, that Mary Lynch,  Editor of this blog) to expand  her acting career into improv. The session was designed to help Mary think through her goals and approaches in counseling students on career development in an environment where predictable and linear career tracks are no longer the norm.

After the role play Carolyn summarized three keys to cognitive coaching:  pausing, paraphrasing and posing questions (with a rising inflection that communicates curiosity and openness, not control or credibility).  The beauty of this approach is that it helps the individual “self-monitor, self-analyze, and self-evaluate“.

The session certainly reinforced three lessons that clinicians should know; after all, a foundational goal of clinical legal education is fostering reflection, and most of us teach interviewing and counseling, at least to some extent.

  • First, the power of listening.  In a world of fast talking, sometimes monologue-happy, often living-in-our-heads law professors, so easy for this lesson to “go missing”  if we ruminate worriedly, trying to cope with the new normal in faculty and committee meetings and informal conversations.
  • Second, the value of paraphrasing for understanding to ensure accurate communication.
  • And finally, the importance of  founding our questions on authentic curiosity — listening in order to understand, not to counter an argument.

In a constantly changing world, where so many verities are in play, it’s too easy for us to get stuck in fear and suspicion.  Though the stated rationale for the mini-plenary was to help us counsel students, for me it spoke at least as powerfully to how we can most effectively interact  with our colleagues.  And, perhaps, “counsel” ourselves.

In the next, and final post of this series, I’ll discuss a Thursday concurrent that linked “inner development” with community building and social justice.

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Teaching the Skill of Listening in Law Schools

The wonderful research by Marj Shultz and Shelton Zedeck tells is that listening is one of the fundamental lawyering skills that all lawyers, especially recent graduates, need to have in their toolkit upon graduation.  So for the last few years, I have been trying to find ways to incorporate lessons on the skill of listening into my teaching.  I just saw a TED talk on listening. http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_5_ways_to_listen_better.html  In it, Julian Treasure recognizes the role of listening in stemming injustice and also gives some ideas that could inspire innovation in how we can teach the skill of listening.  What do you think?  Any ideas on how the exercises can be adapted for legal education?

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