In January 2014, the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education stated that “[a]n evolution is taking place in legal practice and legal education needs to evolve with it.” To this end, the Task Force recommended that the law school curriculum “needs to shift still further toward developing the competencies and professionalism required of people who will deliver services to clients.” In fact, the Task Force emphasized that “[a] graduate’s having some set of competencies in the delivery of law and related services, and not just some body of knowledge, is an essential outcome for any program of legal education.” To develop a competency-based program of legal education, legal educators must support “experimentation and innovation,” and recognize that the time for fundamental curricular changes has arrived. Importantly, however, responsible curricular reforms will reflect an evolution, not a revolution, from traditional law school pedagogy, and adopt a careful blueprint for integration, not merely innovation.
Responsible integration -- and a curriculum in which students acquire core lawyering competencies – requires structural and sequential changes. Regarding structural changes, law schools must re-think the traditional “silo” model of legal education, in which the three pillars of legal education – doctrinal, skills, and clinical courses are nestled into separate parts of the curriculum, as if one has no relation to the other. For example, traditional doctrinal courses often predominate the first year of law school, while skills courses emerge in the second year and live-client clinical instruction is emphasized in the third year. To some degree, this makes sense; students must learn foundational legal concepts and be trained to think like lawyers before they can apply the law to a set of facts, draft a legal document, or represent a client. But the mistake most legal educators make is not realizing that this paradigm can remain intact while simultaneously integrating doctrine, skills, and clinics across and throughout the curriculum. Simply put, the structural prerequisite for responsible integration involves collapsing the separation between the three traditional pillars of legal education and a commitment to building a bridge from law school to the legal profession.
With respect to sequencing, law schools should adopt a chronological model in which law students draft litigation and transactional documents – and complete real-world simulations – in the order they would in practice. As discussed in detail below, this can be accomplished through a cross-curricular model. Under this approach, students are given a multi-issue fact pattern in the first semester of law school and proceed to litigate a fictional case from beginning to end. In the first semester, students perform a client interview, followed by a retention agreement, research assignment, predictive memorandum, and complaint. In the second semester, students draft a motion to dismiss, answer, discovery, and motion for summary judgment, and in the third semester draft an appellate brief. In so doing, students will understand the context within which law is practiced, gain experience in drafting multiple real-world documents, and acquire practical skills that can be transferred to other contexts.
Based on these principles, this article provides a blueprint for a three-year law school curriculum that retains the traditional emphasis on doctrine, skills, and clinics, but makes structural and sequential changes to ensure that the quality of legal education will build upon the past – and prepare students for the future. Part II sets forth the building blocks upon which a truly integrated program of legal education should rest, including competency-driven learning outcomes, the adoption of formative and summative assessments, and a focus on context-based learning and metacognition. Part III includes a proposed three-year curriculum that, among other things, incorporates a cross-curricular model, six-semester required legal writing program, and five-semester clinical program. Ultimately, as the Task Force noted, responsible curricular reforms require “a reorientation of attitudes toward change, including market-driven change, by persons within the law school,” and recognition that “[l]aw schools, whatever their individual differences, have a basic societal role: to prepare individuals to provide legal and related services.” Indeed, “fusing practice with theory and doctrinal instruction will best prepare students for the demands of practice in the twenty-first century.”
- experiential learning,
- law school curriculum,
- legal education
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/adam_lamparello/50/