Assessing the Experiential (R)evolution
61 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2020
Date Written: 2020
For more than a century, law schools have resisted substantial reforms relating to experiential education. Yet, in 2014, the ABA mandated a six-credit experiential course graduation requirement for law schools, alongside a packet of experiential curriculum amendments. Proponents of experiential education had hoped for a fifteen-credit mandate, aligning law schools with other professional schools that require one-quarter to one-third skills training. Still, six credits is significant, potentially marking a striking shift in the direction of legal education. To date, no one—including the ABA—has broadly evaluated the post-mandate legal education experiential landscape. It is particularly urgent to consider recent shifts in legal education as law schools grapple with new paths forward in the backdrop of a global pandemic and calls to meaningfully address systemic racism in legal education.
In 2018–2019, the first classes of law students graduated under the revised ABA Standards, and the authors conducted a national survey of ABA-accredited law schools, receiving responses from 126 institutions. Data collected from this survey informed our study, which is the first systematic, empirical investigation into the experiential landscape shift since the revised Standards were adopted. Our analysis reveals a proliferation of deans and directors of experiential education, continued growth in experiential curricula, including among experiential courses in the first-year curriculum, and experimentation with new pedagogical approaches. Hybrid experiential courses termed “labs” and “practicums” have expanded as well. These trends of expansion and experimentation suggest law schools individually and collectively should enter into a period of assessment. Institutions should take stock of their existing programming to ensure they have engaged in responsive and responsible growth. These assessments should also consider whether the institutions have promoted sustainability for and diversity within their experiential faculty, programs, deans, and directors. Particularly, in the context of looming financial concerns, an ever-changing legal market, and an evolving profile of law students, schools should resist efforts to shortchange experiential programs; overstretch experiential deans, directors, and faculty; give short shrift to diversity and equity concerns; and relax rigorous standards for experiential education.
Keywords: experiential education, experiential learning, legal education, clinics, externships, practicums, labs, curricular reform, ABA accreditation standards, skills, pedagogy, law schools, clinical legal education
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