What? Why?

What is legal education? Why does it matter—to us, to students, to the world that depends upon people educated in our certain way?

One of my Summer projects is to redesign my law school courses. My goal is to make them more accessible, meaningful, and user-friendly for students—my end-users. 

And so, I have been thinking a lot about legal education more broadly. How do my courses fit in with the larger educational design of the multi-year, 21st Century law school experience that we collectively provide to future lawyers?

One fundamental part of the #makelawbetter movement is the drive to #makelawschoolbetter. We might disagree sometimes about what “better” will look like, but we agree that getting to “better” will require us to center the needs and experiences of our end-users: our students.

When educating students for a profession, students ought to be the primary—but not the only—focus of our innovations, creative interventions, and policy changes. They are a diverse, differently-situated group of humans. This takes time and intentional effort.

As we get to know our students better, we need to supplement that knowledge with data about what end-users of the system of legal justice require. What will future clients and the public interest demand from our future-lawyer students? 

The role we play in all of this—the way we define our work and articulate the core mission of legal education to insiders and outsiders alike—matters

So I ask again: What are we doing here? And: why are we doing it?

If we decide we are teaching students how to obtain expert-level knowledge about an inert thing called law, we will judge our current system—and any attempts to make it better—in a certain way. 

But, by contrast: if we decide our mission is more complex….if we decide we are not teaching a thing, but a whole human person: a particular, expert way that some people can know, and think, and speak, and listen, and feel, and do, and be…if we decide our focus is on educating human persons to competently know, value, and do things that are necessary to provide a bundle of human services, only some of which can be labeled “legal”?

If we decide that the way we do these things—not just the ability to do them—matters, too?

Well. In that case, we will evaluate our current system—and our work to reform it—in radically different ways. 

The framing of our work matters.

So I’m asking, one last time. Legal educators: 

What are we doing here? And why are we doing it?

Emergency Remote Teaching? Meet True Distance Learning.

Like many other legal educators, I recently took part in an online survey administered by CALI—the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction. The survey was designed to gather data about our recent unplanned-for mass experiment with online legal education. (Because: pandemic!)

In an emailed cover letter that invited us to take the survey, CALI’s Executive Director, John Mayer, bluntly summarized the situation: 

“[W]hat you accomplished was not true distance learning. It was Emergency Remote Teaching.” 

This distinction matters.

We can embrace it without needing to feel defensive about it. As Mayer reminded us: “You didn’t have time to plan, create new materials, train or set up infrastructure.”

To put it in my own words: we did not have time to thoughtfully, collaboratively redesign our courses with online end-users in mind.

I am grateful to Mayer and the good folks at CALI for gathering data at this time when so many others would perhaps like to—but are focused on more pressing ongoing crisis-response initiatives. This data can be an important part of a larger, more deliberative process of reflection, feedback, learning, and planning that we will undertake this Summer.

Over the coming weeks, as we move toward a Fall semester that may possibly be online….or partially online….I will be interested to see what happens when we do have time to plan, create new materials, train, and otherwise design our courses with online end-users in mind.

As part of that process, I hope to check-in with students—the end-users of my courses. They have a point of view that I need to take into account if I am to make meaningful, substantive improvements to my course design and delivery….before giving instruction and feedback online again.

I’m curious, readers. Following our recent, emergency move to online teaching, what did you learn?

How, if at all, do you plan on changing your courses based on newly-acquired information and experience? 

Follow me on Twitter @profcorts, where I will be happy to collect/retweet responses.

As we move forward, let’s share information, swap stories, collect data. It would be optimal to hear from the broadest possible coalition of innovative educators. Let’s embrace this challenge: encourage, challenge, and hold each other to account.

-CC

a law students’ bill of rights?

I’m involved in a project to create a virtual learning experience for law students this summer. Spurred by the pandemic and its impact on law students’ summer employment opportunities, a group of forward-thinking people came together to ask, how can we help students right now? What can we do, with what we have, where we are?

I’ll be sharing more on the project shortly.

I mention it because the idea of a law students’ bill of rights came up in planning this learning experience. Our group is focused on giving students meaningful interaction with skills existing on the People and Process sides of the Delta Model. Skills that are largely absent from most law school curricula, and frankly don’t appear in many summer employment experiences, either. And, they’re critical to lawyer formation, professional success, and general thriving.

As we considered what we should be offering students, one of our group referenced a (yet to exist) law students’ bill of rights as a way to articulate what students should be getting out of their early formative learning experiences in law. (I use this phrase intentionally, to be broader than just law school.)

What do law students have a right to, from a legal education? And what comprises a legal education?

These feel like important questions to me. I think we’re going to explore them. With law students. Stay tuned.

And, if this is a topic of interest to you, let me know via Twitter.

-CM


Legal Education Unmasked?

Well, fellow legal educators: we did it. We survived a semester that—no, seriously—tried to kill us. We lurched about, frantically learning new rules of physical, social, psychological, even emotional distancing.

We virtually-graduated a class of distracted, traumatized, gritty-resilient students whose futures remain as bright as they are uncertain. If our students were not always engaged? We weren’t either. We all were good faith players in a very confusing improvisational drama. 

All over America, law schools flattened their own curve—and watched intrinsic motivation spike. And dive. And evaporate. And flatline. And resurrect. And…pick your own favorite verb. We saw it all.

Learning for learning’s sake made a bit of a comeback. So did phoning it in. (Literally. And figuratively.)

We stared down existential crisis…and won. Without grades or the curve: who are we?! Why do we exist? Do we still matter? 

Unclear. But we live to fight, doubt, and pit students against each other for another day.

We found a difference between learning…and the assessment of learning. We proved we could still give meaningful feedback without giving a grade. Even so: growth, learning, and a long journey toward professional competence can flourish without a number or letter grade parasitically attached. 

Like world-class athletes, elite musicians, and master craftswomen, we watched wannabe-worldclass lawyers, with wildly-varying levels of resources or motivation, track their growth toward greatness by comparing their own individual performance against…their own previous performance. 

As for assessments? We discovered, again, that exams can be given online. Without sharing physical space. Like good canaries in the bar examiners’ coal mine, we wrestled with a different question: do exams need to be given at all? Do our tests even test what we need them to? Might there be another way to do summative assessment with integrity?

And, my favorite question now dawning: is it possible that we could stage legal education as an arena for practice—not competition?

These questions, our fears and doubts, the interventions we risked…it was all gloriously human. Emotional, aspirational, motivated by noble and ignoble impulses, flawed in execution. Some stuff worked, some stuff didn’t. Some of the stuff that never really works suddenly caught our attention, and we finally cared. A lot.

But…big closing question….:

Did we really need a pandemic to see, and feel, and try, and do, and learn, and fail the way we did? 

Could we lose the global crisis and still be willing to risk doing things in new and better ways? Can we leave this semester behind and still hold ourselves and each other accountable for doing it better next time?

More on that next post….

-CC

Iterating on the Delta Model: Practice, Process, People

We intend the Delta Model for Lawyer Competency to be iterative and agile, meaning we will constantly seek to update and improve as we learn more about lawyer competencies and how best to communicate them through the model.

The latest iteration adopts the labels People, Process, and Practice for the three sides of the Delta. I started using these labels in talking about the Delta and found they both accurately capture the content as well as people’s attention.

Delta Model v.4: descriptors of Practice, Process, People
Image courtesy of Alyson Carrel.
Delta Model v.4: competencies of Practice, Process, People
Image courtesy of Alyson Carrel.

As my fellow working group member Alyson Carrel and I work to improve the Delta Model’s utility, we seek to make it as accessible and useful as possible while also integrating all that we know and are discovering about modern lawyer competencies.

Another step we’re taking is to dig deep into IAAL’s Foundations for Practice initiative and its research into lawyer skills and competencies. By overlaying this research with our own qualitative and quantitative original research, along with the research of others in the legal profession and relevant research on 21st-century skills for knowledge workers generally, we seek to identify the most relevant and desirable skills and build out from here. This enables anyone using the model to start with core competencies and then dig deeper based on individual professional development goals.

We’re currently conducting workshops in law schools and with practicing lawyers, and working with career services in law schools to develop tools and methods for integrating the Delta Model into career planning early on in the process.

As we iterate on these early tool prototypes, we’ll be adding resources to Design Your Delta, where we plan to share with anyone interested in using the Delta Model. Consistent with the original goals of the MacCrate Report’s Statement of Skills and Values for lawyers, we view the Delta Model as highly useful for law students (course and career planning), law schools (curricular planning and development), legal services organizations of all types (hiring, training, and retention), and practicing legal professionals (ongoing learning, professional development, upskilling, and generally thriving).

Most days I feel the seemingly utter futility of this effort — into which Alyson and I are pouring a considerable amount of effort and time — to affect any real change for the better in either how we train new lawyers or how practicing lawyers approach their own professional development.

There is so much room for improvement in both areas and the more time I spend in research and understanding, the more I believe both can benefit immensely from starting with a clearly-articulated understanding of what competencies lawyers actually need in today’s world (and beyond) in order to simultaneously do excellent work and thrive as individual humans.

I’m way over microblog limit so shall return soon to finish up these thoughts. Today, I am optimistic. And impatient.

-CM

do law schools lag law firms in the integration of technology?

As I started to respond to this tweet on Twitter, it occurred to me that this is a perfect #ALTJD topic. And it’s been a while since we’ve posted here. So, I’ll respond here, and tweet about it. A twofer.

I have more questions than answers in response to the tweet.

A few questions that come to mind:

What exactly should law schools be teaching, with regards to technology?

Should law schools be leveraging technology pedagogically, i.e. in how we teach?

How can law schools and practitioners collaborate to connect the dots between legal education and practice through technology?

And, some thoughts occur as I ponder these queries. One is that law schools generally don’t much teach the practice of law, but rather legal theory and how to “think like a lawyer.” These are very different things. This seems relevant to the technology inquiry and what role it should (can?) play in legal education.

Another thought: I’m not sure we have enough qualified people to teach technology courses (once we decide what this should look like in the legal education setting). I’ve talked to folks at many schools who want to integrate technology and innovation courses into the curricula and can’t because there are no faculty to teach the courses. Even finding qualified adjunct is proving challenging.

(I have many thoughts on why this is. Starting with the fact that many people most qualified to teach technology and innovation courses aren’t necessarily biglaw lawyers who can afford to spend an enormous amount of time teaching a course for essentially no remuneration. When this is the model, you get a lot of old, white male adjuncts who generally are very traditional. This severely limits the pool.)

And because this is a microblog I’ll save further thoughts for another day.

-CM

a sandbox for legal education

I recently attended a by-invitation-only conclave convened to explore the future of legal services, from a global perspective. In the room? Legal educators, law company c-suite folks, operations counsel from global technology companies, leaders of legal for the Big 4, members of the current ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education. An interesting mix of people, certainly.

Attendees were asked to contribute a short paper on one of three topics. Not surprisingly, I chose the topic “design principles for law school curricula in the light of future developments in the market for legal services.”

Here is what I submitted:

The very existence of this second Conference on the Future of Legal Services affirms that the legal profession rests on shifting sands. Accordingly, I will forgo a belabored review of what is changing, and by how much, and why. And I will simply point out that what lawyers do and how we do it looks very different today than it did when my grandfather entered the practice in the 1940s, and when my father entered the practice in the 1960s, and even when I entered the practice in the 1990s. The pace of this change is not going to slow, and most likely will continue to hasten.

If we accept this as true, then what is the import for legal education? For surely, if what lawyers do and how we do it is changing, then how we educate and train new lawyers should change. Many people have been discussing this for quite a while. Consider Thomas D. Morgan’s proposal that the ABA’s law school reform efforts in 2011 “must necessarily begin — at least implicitly — with the question of what kind of people law schools are charged with producing.”[1] This question remains at the heart of any inquiry into legal education.

I recently joined the working group for the Delta Competency Model[2], which seeks to describe the core competencies required to be a successful modern legal practitioner: this is the kind of person law schools are charged to produce. Comprised of three primary competency areas — the law, personal effectiveness, and business and operations — the model offers an agile and dynamic framework for describing the skills and characteristics today and tomorrow’s lawyers — and legal professionals generally — need to thrive.

My proposal is simple: we need a new flavor of legal education with a curriculum designed to teach these competencies. This must happen in the immediate future, and it must be a path to both a legal practice (as a licensed lawyer) as well as positions that do not necessarily require bar passage and licensure, such as legal operations engineer, legal designer, legal process architect, and many more positions that will be needed and do not yet exist.

How do we do this? This also is very simple: the ABA creates a sandbox for designing and testing new flavors of accredited legal education, to include curricular content aligned with modern competencies (e.g. the Delta Model) and delivered using modern pedagogical best practices, including methods based in learning science and integrating advanced technology. All at a cost to law students that does not unduly burden them financially and therefore limit (or dictate) their reasonable employment options post-graduation.

Our obligations to uphold the rule of law and provide access to justice are too great for us to continue with our heads buried in these shifting sands. I’m a 5th-generation lawyer practicing for 20+ years. And I will leave legal education and the profession completely before I stand idly by and bear witness to our continued collective hubris. The time is now.

-CM


[1] Thomas D. Morgan, The Changing Face of Legal Education: Its Impact on What It Means to Be a Lawyer, 45 Akron L. Rev. 811, 811 (2011).

[2] The Delta Competency Model: see https://www.alysoncarrel.com/delta-competency-model


as opportunities expand, are law students ready?

And are law schools ready?

I receive queries often from employers who seek legal professionals with training and experience in areas that law schools are not offering (or, not offering in a meaningful and comprehensive way). So students are graduating without this exposure. And often going into law firms that do not offer this exposure.

Queries seeking to fill positions like Legal Process Innovation Architect, for example:

Where does one get exposure to and experience with these competencies? (This is not a rhetorical question.) 

This is happening as I engage in the Delta Lawyer Model of competency working group. We’re seeking to identify core competencies required by a modern legal professional.

The Delta Model identifies the range of competencies that appear in this job description—a range much broader than what is offered by a traditional legal education (which happens to be the only flavor available). While the company that drafted this description has no knowledge of the model, this is not happenstance. The world is moving rapidly in the direction of requiring these competencies. (n.b.: This truth is being affirmed over and over as we test and refine the model across the spectrum of legal employers.)

How rapidly are legal educators moving? 

-CM

are we considering the impact of legal tech and innovation on other areas of legal education?

By guest blogger Alyson Carrel.

A recent post on the ADR Prof Blog, Indisputably, asked the question: How does the rise of new legal technology and innovation programs impact the future of ADR programs in legal ed? The post seemed to pit one program against the other after Georgia State University Law School announced it had pulled funding for a new ADR faculty position to prioritize resources in legal technology.  

As a member of the ADR community, I was concerned to hear that a school pulled funding from an ADR position. As the assistant dean for law and technology initiatives at Northwestern,  I was glad to see another school recognize the changes in our practice that legal technology and innovation are driving. More schools need to open their eyes to this changing landscape and realize that learning how to “think like a lawyer” is insufficient for today’s legal market. New skills related to technology, data, and artificial intelligence are required to meet clients’ demands to provide better, faster, and cheaper services.

And while I implore law schools to recognize the importance of technology and innovation, I don’t think it should be at the expense of skills often taught in ADR courses. We can’t mistake the growing importance of learning about technology and data analytics with a shrinking importance of learning problem-solving skills. They go hand in hand.

Advocates in the legal technology and innovation space are not arguing for lawyers to become computer scientists, they are arguing for lawyers to become better problem-solvers by understanding and utilizing all the tools available to them, including technology. This was one of the reasons I gravitated towards the legal tech (and innovation) space. It is the focus on creativity and problem-solving, as well as its appreciation of the interdisciplinary nature inherent in good lawyering, that attracted me. Technology is just one of the many tools available when designing a solution.

The rise of innovation and legal technology in the delivery of legal services should be driving a more holistic understanding of lawyering and legal education. I’d like to think we can shift the conversation from an “or” stance to an “and” stance, and remind administrators why ADR programs, and more broadly lawyering and problem-solving modules, are as important to our students today as ever, maybe even more so. 

legal ed + technology

Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash

We deprive ourselves and our students of the important (necessary?) contributions technology makes — both to the educational process and to the content of what we teach in law school — if our primary conversations around technology in the law school environment concern whether students can use laptops in class (or not).

My point: we are completely missing the point. And the opportunity.

Legal education in the 21st century demands technology — in how we teach, and what we teach.

-CM