3rd Annual Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Conference

by Paul Maharg on 19/09/2014

I’ve been invited to the 3rd Annual Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Conference, subtitled Accelerating Competency: Assessment in Legal Education, and being held in Denver, COL.  I’m live-blogging most of the event.  The conference is hosted by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), who run a series of significant projects — one of which is Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL).  Opening day is composed of Show, Tell & Learn sessions, as unfolds below the fold.

First up is Alli Gerkman, Director of ETL with a Welcome.  Straight into the first Show, Tell & Learn, on an Ignite format — six minutes, rolling slides.  I remember my own experience back at the Reinvent Law event in London a year or two back.  Blogging slides is problematic!  First up, DLA Piper practitioner, Gary Finkelstein on collaborative learning.  Noted new training models — boot camps,  academic changes with new practical skills classes, California mandating experiential learning.  Horizontal and vertical collaboration is required: faculty working with practitioners, eg merging doctrinal and practical experiences, done in Cardozo, eg.  International Business Negotiation classes is another example.  Gave examples of negotiations including a video extract.  Neat.  Reminded me of the Ardcalloch / Sieberdam international negotiation we ran about a decade ago at the Glasgow Graduate School of Law.  Here’s the list of Ignite presentations:

  1. Michael Madison from Pittsburgh U Law School on creating innovation in professional education.  Strategies — act then ask and ground a vision in success.  Get students in the room with their future clients and non-legal colleagues (grad students/millennials).    How?  Partner with everyone you need eg journals, student organisations, other disciplines, other colleges.  Add networking/professional development mission to student IP group, to student tech law journal.  Give students th told to build visions of their future selves (connect them to almni; teach leadership).  The last point is embodied in a five-week leadership development course.  The macro vision is to connect the school’s vision to the community’s vision (economic development research in Pittsburgh), including advocacy.
  2. Next, Andrew Schepard on an interdisciplinary centre on IAALS model for separating and divorcing facilities — a resource centre for such families, and law students work in the centre.  Centre offered education serves and referral to community resources.  Students learn knowledge skills and values, by intensive sim-based training including mediation training and mental health knowledge, and financial planning.  Skills include counselling, medication, drafting collaboration.  There’s evaluation by IAALS of the 3-year project.  About 80 families helped to date.  Good project.
  3. Next presenting on Getting to Maybe, on traditional exams.  Not quite sure what this was about, but the point seemed to be that traditional exams can enhance problem-solving and critical thinking.  Not convinced, but all three of my readers wouldn’t really expect me to be…
  4. David Thomson next from Denver U Law School, about the ‘experiential advantage’ (EA) at Denver U.  85% of students interested in this, with 149 respondents.  89% wanted clinic and 97% selected an externship.  EA is one year, is 30 credits, where courses are experiential in a variety of ways.  Courses include Lawyering Process, simulation courses, clinics, externships, hybrid clinics, trail practice, criminal clinic, Admin Law Employment Law.
  5. Any Curcio next from Georgia State U, showing a video where there were a variety of experiential and sim based courses, eg Civil Advocacy, Contract, Unincorporated Business Organisations, Law and Health Equity.  In the last, students work with real clients, developing counselling skills and the like, Clark Cunningham was there too with his Foundations course, Jessica Gable on Bankrupcy; Healthcare Transactions, International Human Rights, and more.  A great array of vibrant educational thinking.
  6. Kate Kruse on experiential skills labs in the  Hamline Experiential Progression eg Litiation Labs, Transaction Labs.  Litigation took in Family, Evidence, Criminal and Constitutional Law.  The labs taught fact development and client problem-solving.
  7. Jennifer Gundlach on putting legal doctrine in to practical context: improving learning outcomes.  Insturctional tools include case file components, use of online components.  She gave the example of fact analysis, and how this was carried out in the experiential simulation.  Result was much better integration of law and fact amongst much else.  Very good feedback.  Use Wolters Kluwer, online para-legal learning case management environment.  She populated the environment herself.
  8. David Herring, on course level assessment using pre- and post-tests.  Used Schulz & Z’s criteria of effective lawyers.  Growth not competency is his goal.  No significant gains using traditional socratic method.  Next year this was supplemented by questions and feedback and writing assignments, and then the addition of Salon, feedback software.  Much improvement.
  9. Next, Ben Madison and Natt Gantt on cultivating professional identity in law school.  They used mentors; and students wrote on the philosophy of lawyering.  Professional identity seemed to be improved.  They developed a survey questionnaire for conference delegates to fill out.
  10. Next, Ilene Seidman, Suffolk Law School’s Accelerator Programme, that addresses the practice gaps — the practice gap, the market gap (small firms, not big law), and the justice gap, etc.  Accelerator includes externship and study in cycles.  Courses include interviewing and counselling, negotiation for lawyers, problem solving and business practice.  Als includes embracing practice management in innovative ways, including new automated practice systems, decision-making trees, etc.  Evaluation? Students are assessed in their ability to use tech, manage a small or solo law practice, networking and many other outcomes, where lawyers represent average income people.

This was followed by useful breakouts where we got to talk to the presenters at the tables in much more detail about their work.  Very useful format. I learned a lot about the breadth of innovation in US legal education, the thoughtful way it’s being implemented, and the excitement that it generates too.  Great stuff.

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