So Why Not an Experiential Law School . . . Starting with Reflection in the First Year?

21 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2014 Last revised: 29 Sep 2016

See all articles by Daniel Schaffzin

Daniel Schaffzin

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

Date Written: September 4, 2014


Urged on by increasingly agitated calls from across the legal community for more “practice-ready” graduates, law schools are now more than ever engaged in a good-faith struggle with questions of how to most effectively develop and implement coursework designed to achieve that aim. Over a relatively short period of time, most schools have responded by introducing an expanding array of clinics, externships, and skills-focused simulation courses. Historically treated by many within the teaching academy as an approach to be avoided, experiential education is now being touted as the remedy curative of the legal education’s problems.

This essay proposes that effective implementation of experiential education must begin with training law students how to learn from experience during the first year of law school. After Part I briefly reviews of the seismic shift that has taken lawyer training from doctrine-exclusive to skills-heavy in focus, Part II overviews the reflective pedagogies and practices from which so many of the benefits of experiential education emanate. Part II also considers the ways in which two Australian law schools and one American law school have added reflection to the first-year curriculum. Thereafter, Part III offers a prescription for incorporating reflective learning into the first year as a means of readying students for the extensive legal training — including clinics, externships, and simulation coursework — that lies ahead. By adopting a comprehensive experiential curriculum commencing at day one, it is argued that students will be permitted a deeper form of learning from the outset and be that much more practice-ready upon graduation.

Suggested Citation

Schaffzin, Daniel, So Why Not an Experiential Law School . . . Starting with Reflection in the First Year? (September 4, 2014). 7 Elon L. Rev. 383, University of Memphis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 142, Available at SSRN:

Daniel Schaffzin (Contact Author)

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law ( email )

One North Front Street
Memphis, TN 38103-2189
United States

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