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