I have noted here a welcome to the law student legal education reform blog Law Schooled. Having the student voice in this discussion is incredibly important. There have been numerous thoughtful posts already on their blog, and I encourage you to read it and keep track of it.
A recent post at the Law Schooled blog asked for clarification of something Scott Fruehwald wrote at the Legal Skills Prof Blog: “take as many skills courses and clinics as you can. If students take more skills courses and clinics, your law school will have to hire more skills professors and offer more skills options.”
The poster at Law Schooled explained that at her school the skills courses are always full, and it is not clear whether long wait lists have an effect on administration. It is obvious to students that the large classes are more cost effective for law schools, and smaller classes are more expensive. And students just don’t understand how signing up for more skills classes will make a difference – that it would actually increase the number of skills classes that are made available. “Is there a magic number that will signify that enough of us want these courses to push law schools to change the supply of skills courses to meet our demands?”
Scott responded in the comments that it is a question of “allocation of resources,” and noted that some schools have already started to respond to this issue, citing the consortium schools that are part of the Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers project. (Full disclosure: my own school is a member of the consortium). And he made mention of the Context and Practice Series (from Carolina) and the Skills & Values Series (from Lexis) (and I am an author and series editor of the Lexis books) as new forms of teaching materials that law professors can use to teach in a more practice-focused way. He also encourages students to pick law schools that are part of ETL and encourage administration at their own schools to invest in teaching and not new buildings.
The post at Law Schooled brings up a terrifically important issue. Students want to have a voice, but they don’t know where to put it or how to have impact. Scott makes some good suggestions, he encourages civility, and even adds a reminder that they will be alumni one day, and being asked for money. These are all good suggestions, but I wanted to add a few more.
It is true that the power of “voting with your feet” is limited if the demand for skills courses outstrips supply. If the courses are full, you can’t select it, and you are often left with a traditional doctrinal course. But there are other things that students can do. They can vote with evaluations – in most schools administration looks carefully at student evaluations. They can petition the Associate Dean for more skills courses, and ask the registrar for data on how many students are waitlisted for these courses. By the way, while you are speaking with your Associate Dean, encourage her not to address the problem solely with adjuncts. The problem with adjuncts is they often don’t know how to teach in this way, and (because they practice law all day) have trouble providing the formative feedback that these courses require.
Students can also ask their professors – respectfully – questions like: “Could we work on drafting a contract in this class?” Or: “Could we draft a Complaint and Answer?” That kind of question might not create instant change, but it would make an impression, and future students might get the benefit.
Finally, a longer-term answer to the question posted at the Law Schooled blog. It comes from a suggestion I made at the FutureEd3 Conference in New York a year ago, and I often wonder how many students would welcome this. But suppose you had a Civil Procedure class with a great professor who wanted to incorporate skills more in the class. Unfortunately, it is a 90-student class, and so that is hard to do. It meets three times per week, and right now, those classes are mostly traditional “Socratic” method format: going through cases to learn the doctrine of Civ. Pro. from mostly appellate cases.
But suppose the professor taped a full set of those classes for the semester last year – with students in the class asking the usual questions and responding to the professor’s inquiries. This year, the class is divided into three sub-sections – let’s call them A, B, and C, with 30 students each, and “class” meets three times per week – on M/W/F at 10 a.m. You are in Section B, which means you do the assigned reading and watch the class online on Monday and Friday, but on Wednesday, you go to the class with the professor “live” and focus on assignments that come out of the doctrine you are learning in the online class and the reading. (On Mondays, Section A attends the small class, and on Friday, Section C does). Online during the week, you also participate in a discussion about the cases and doctrine with the professor and fellow students in the course.
(A few things to note: First, ABA accreditation standards would not allow this much time spent learning online during the first year. But it would not prohibit such a course design in the upper levels, and any school can experiment with a course in this way with notice to the ABA. Second, assume that sufficient coverage of the material needed for "bar courses" is still possible; I believe that to be true, but the case for that is beyond the subject of this post. Third, the technology to make this work - and well - is not new, and is reliable.)
Sometimes, I think it is students who come to law school with preconceived notions of how classes will go. Perhaps this comes from the movies, but also (unfortunately) from college classes they have taken. Professors need to think “outside the box” but perhaps students do too. How would students respond to such a course design? If not in the first year, then how about Evidence or Admin Law in the second or third year? These are all courses that are currently in the curriculum, and making the changes described here would have almost no additional cost. There would be a need for currently employed faculty to make some significant changes, but I suspect if they did, they would find it much more fun to teach in this way. We could make significant strides in teaching in a more practice-focused way, and we would not have to hire additional faculty, or push these curricular changes onto our adjuncts.
Students at Law Schooled, would you prefer to attend a class in this format? Do you think it would work? How could this model be improved?