3rd Annual Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Conference, day 3, am

by Paul Maharg on 21/09/2014

Final day, focusing on how assessment was being carried out throughout the ETL Consortium.  Four 15 min presentations:

  • ‘Are experiential modules really better? Qualitative assessment for student learning’, Christine Cerniglia Brown and Monica Hof Wallace (Loyola U New Orleans College of Law).
  • ‘Assessing the “Roadmap for Employment” Experiment, Neil Hamilton, U of St Tomas School of Law
  • Writing to learn in doctrinal courses, Michael Madison, U of Pittsburgh School of Law
  • ‘Using student narrative to assess professional development’, Melissa Swain,  JoNel Newman, U of Miami School of Law

Christine & Monica began by saying they wanted hard data on experiential learning that proved if it really were better.  Monica’s class was the research field: Civil Law of Persons (Louisiana, so great to hear from a civilian…).  They both set out to improve the module by deciding which skills were relevant to the module and would transfer to other practice areas, draft a semester assignment to integrate skills, develop character, plot, visuals and script.  The learning situation seemed (I’m not sure about this, maybe missed a bit) to be combination of structured discussion with experts (clinicians, practitioners, academics) and experiential learning.  The assessment form for the dealt with quants as well as qualitative data, focusing on clarity of the assignment, how interesting, useful, most helpful, would you recommend it.  First unit, the client interview.  Students rated it very highly.  Second unit, drafting a divorce petition.  Again, very positive on ratings of interest and usefulness.  Third unit, child custody hearing: same results.  Fourth unit: court visit: same order of quant results.  Overall experience was very positive, and the qualitative results confirmed the quants.  What do they do now?  Couple of interesting issues I picked out from their wrap-up:

  1. Modelling techniques from attorneys was more effective than student involvement in a large setting
  2. students have disorienting moments transitioning from theory to practice; more resources

Next, Neil Hamilton, from the Holloran Centre for Ethics. He showed data on ranked competencies considered important in hiring, including good judgment, analytical skills, initiative/strong work ethic, written/oral comms, dedication to client serves and more.  It was validated.  The Roadmap he’s putting together asks each student to demonstrate initiative and commitment to professional development toward the competencies needed to serve others well.  to take 13 steps plus a debrief with a veteran coach.  He showed the results of ratings of self-directedness before and after taking the Roadmap.  The Roadmap showed that students need to experience cognitive disequilibrium with in a context of psychological safety.  Eg dialogues with others, discussions with experts.

Third, Michael Madison, on his personal journey away from conventional teaching.  He started with the problems faced by the ‘podium’ teacher: mismatch of goals, problematic issues of skills learning, etc.  Methods to achieve goals (still evolving): retain trad teaching materials, eliminate final exams, assessments on la office style responses to complex incomplete hypos, client-centred focus, address ethics occasionally, get students in the mood.  He gave us an example of how he organised students in role play in his class, using an IP dispute example.  Drawbacks: cover of course goes down.  Time is doubled in assessing students, and expertise of students is problematic — prior law school work does not prepare them well for the rigour, the uncertainty, or the time demands.  Outcomes/ evidence?  A range of performance remains, but the low and mediocre performers almost always achieve analytic and compositional competence by the end of the semester.  Anecdotal praise from alumni/practitioners, and students do come back for more.  Why?  Because the stuff he was doing was useful for summer internships, jobs, etc.  His colleagues weren’t impressed, apparently.  What’s change?  greater transparency in assessment framework: expectations, rubrics, scoring; increased framing of the course to align with Innovation Practice Institute, and the goal of producing 21st century lawyers who are more than problem-solver and risk avoiders.  What hasn’t changed?  The materials are still ripped from the headlines, just-in-time assignments; no clear issues to spot, no neatly-outlined solutions expected; he treats students like the young professionals they are; and there’s no anonymity.  The future?  He put up his website url: http://madisonian.net/home/ and go to Course Home Pages.

Last, Melissa and JoNel on the link made with Strathclyde Law School’s clinic and Miami Law School’s clinic.  They teach a community clinic.  It’s a ‘teaching hospital’ — high volume, high stress where students are primary case handlers, there’s repetitive practice that creates good habits, and includes disorienting moments.  It’s cross disciplinary. There are 16 learning goals: 12 2L and 3L students, given weekly supervision meetings, and a weekly seminar on guidance on self-reflection, ethics instruction, substantive law and skills training; and of course they focus on self-reflection narratives.  Their methodology, in which they compared SU and Miami clinics, included grounded theory and narrative inquiry, ie thematic analysis of personal accounts of experiences, interviews, identity approach, how students construct their identity with institutional contexts.  There is some control for qualitative weaknesses, eg blind reading of each other’s materials, and testing narratives against actual experiences in clinics.  Evidence of ethical development?  Ethical sensitivity, ethical reasoning and judgment, ethical professional development and commitment, ethical implementation (Navarez and Rest, and best lived experiences (Bebeau).  They gave examples of in-role moral judgment and reasoning, and ethical professional identity development, from the student narratives, quoting students’ words and discussing them.  According to them, students showed additional evidence of professional identity formation, including appreciation of lawyers’ role in securing access to justice, team-working, development of competence and confidence in role that suggests greater awareness, including the problems of access to justice for poor people.  Broader questions — eg what role can self reflection play in these sort of activities. Interesting project.

This session was very useful in giving a sense of what Consortium members are doing to shift their practice.  It’s a constantly evolving field, of course, and these presentations were useful markers in individuals’ and individual law schools’ journeys.

The next session after the break was an open-table discussion of these presentations, so I won’t live-blog that.

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