Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Do Law Students Want Curricular Reform?

Howard Wasserman poses an interesting question over at Prawfs: are law students on board with the supposedly pro-student reforms suggested by the Carnegie Report (and others.)  It turns out that many law students grouse when you add additional components to the course (and the final grade.)  My colleague Emily Zimmerman has done some very interesting empirical work on just this point in a new piece titled What Do Law Students Want

My own sense is that the majority of students prefer the high stakes final over multiple component grading.  That doesn't mean it's the best pedagogy, but it does suggest that curricular reform may come with some unexpected blowback.

I've left comments open.

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Comments

My colleague at the Law School of the University of Connecticut, Leslie Levin, has been surveying student interest in curricular reform for a number of years. According to Leslie, one particularly interesting piece of data is the issue of assessment. Students want more opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, but they are concerned about introducing more exams.

Posted by: Steven Wilf | Jun 18, 2010 10:00:21 AM

It’s also interesting to compare student opinions on curricular issues relating to professionalism with empirical findings on professional formation. My colleague at St. Thomas, Neil Hamilton, offers a helpful resource on that front with his new paper, forthcoming from the Geo J Legal Ethics, titled “The Empirical Relationship of Professionalism to Effectiveness in the Practice of Law.” The paper analyzes the empirical literature of the social sciences and the professions with respect to both how clients and senior professionals define effectiveness and how increased capacities for professionalism are empirically related to a wide range of effectiveness outcomes. You can access it here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1495824

Posted by: Rob Vischer | Jun 18, 2010 1:44:29 PM

I'd like to suggest that this supposed "student preference" is just a mirror of the high stakes final they face after law school: the bar exam. In a sense, they're asking to be tested in law school the same way they'll be tested for their licenses after law school. That's hardly irrational... but it also points out the bankruptcy of the bar exam as a measuring device, both pedagogically and practically.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Jun 18, 2010 2:28:00 PM

Should it surprise anyone that students who do well at one-time high stakes testing, like on the LSAT, and achieve admission to law school based on that, would favor the same format for their law school exams?

Posted by: richard | Jun 18, 2010 2:41:59 PM

Ditch the Socratic method and adopt a practical/clinical style of teaching.

Posted by: JD Underdog | Jun 18, 2010 7:55:21 PM

My sense is that some of this is coming from the pressure law firms are feeling from clients who complain that they do not want to pay for junior associates to learn while working on their matters.

So the law firm partners in turn tell the law schools that recent law school grads should come in with better skills.

Law school deans in turn get excited about skills based courses, etc, that are allegedly more representative of real world practice.

All a big mistake in my view and perhaps the students are intuiting the problem. Law school is the last chance we have to instill in law students some idea of the deeper issues at stake in the law. Once in practice they will rarely have the time to consider those issues. The hope is that after three years of immersion in those issues the instinct is built in and the right alarm bells go off in the right meetings down the road and you can save a life or a business.

In turn, law firms are far better at training recent law grades on the technical skill set young lawyers need on the job. There is some limited value to skills based courses and we could probably learn something from the business school case study method as opposed to just the law school case method. But there is no way to replicate the intense pressure of learning that technical skill set that an actual law firm setting provides.

Posted by: btraven | Jun 18, 2010 10:45:46 PM

I have long offered students optional opportunities for feedback, sometimes graded and sometimes not, and the take-up rate has always been amazingly low. In a Contracts class of 125 students where I allow them to turn in problems for comments (not a grade) prior to the exam, it is rare that I would have more than 10 students opt for the optional exam. Not surprisingly, those 10 students typically fare well in the course, not because of the comments but because of their willingness to do more work.

Posted by: mselmi | Jun 19, 2010 4:18:08 PM

As the pre-law advisor for a large public research university, I advise law school applicants with a very broad range of grades/LSAT scores. I would wager that students who do well on the LSAT answer this question differently from those who do not. If you're comfortable with a high stakes test before law school, strangely enough, you remain comfortable with it in law school. If, on the other hand, like a large number of very good students, you find such an assessment method does not do a good job of measuring your understanding of a subject and/or you suffer from any kind of test anxiety or from a learning disability, you probably respond differently.

This also means that students at the more selective schools (selective in terms of LSAT scores accepted, of course) are likely to respond differently as a group from those at less selective ones.

Given that the typical law school exam is not in any way reflective of any task students will perform as lawyers, it is certainly worth rethinking regardless of the preferences of any one school's group of students.

Posted by: Diane | Jun 21, 2010 7:13:06 AM

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