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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chronicle: Law School Should Be More Like Medical School

Chronicle of Higher Education, Law Schools Could Take a Hint From Medical Schools on Curriculum Reform, Experts Advise:

The nation's legal-education system needs a major overhaul so that students graduating with more than $100,000 in debt can find jobs in a shrinking market and graduate ready to practice. That was the consensus of most of the nearly 100 judges and law-firm partners who converged at a forum this week sponsored by Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

Participants in the "National Forum on the Future of Legal Education" said law schools should emulate medical schools and transform the third year into clinical rotations, so that students know the nuts and bolts of being a lawyer by the time they graduate. Such changes are needed, they said, at a time when law firms are hiring fewer lawyers, and clients are less willing to pay for young associates to gain on-the-job training with their cases. ...

Paul Schiff Berman, law dean at Arizona State University, said his staff will summarize the findings and recommendations and distribute them to law schools nationwide. ...

"Lawyers come out of law school eager and smart and knowing absolutely nothing useful," said J. William Dantzler Jr., the head of global tax practice for the firm White & Case LLP. "I came here with a vague sense that doing away with the third year might be useful, but being a lawyer, I want to hear both sides." During his own third year of law school, he said, "I mostly drank beer and enjoyed myself immensely." ...

Patrick J. Schiltz, a U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota [who] taught law at the University of Notre Dame and the University of St. Thomas before his appointment to the federal bench in 2006. ...  Mr. Schiltz said most law professors nationwide graduated from a few top schools and have little practice experience. "The faculty can't teach these skills because they don't know how," he said. "They've never had a client, and they aren't interested. Teaching students (these skills) doesn't enhance their prestige or help their schools climb in the rankings."

See also Christine Nero Coughlin (Wake Forest), Lisa T. McElroy (Drexel) & Sandy Patrick (Lewis & Clark), See One, Do One, Teach One:  Dissecting Medical Education's Signature Pedagogy in the Law School Classroom, 26  Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 361 (2010):

With the recent publication of the Best Practices in Legal Education, and the Carnegie Report on the Advancement of Teaching, law professors today have an opportunity to adopt pedagogies that have been successfully used in other professional disciplines that, like law, integrate skills and theory. In this article, we focus specifically on the “see one, do one, teach one” approach used in medical education because medical students and law students develop early professional reasoning skills in parallel ways.

This article dissects medical education’s signature pedagogy by focusing on the use of simulation and samples, active learning exercises, and peer teaching opportunities as a corollary to using visualization, application, and demonstration in the medical context. The article guides legal educators through the process of implementing the methodology. This article concludes that utilizing the “see one, do one, teach one” methodology facilitates student engagement with course material on a deeper analytical level, by providing context for the students, and allowing students to internalize and transfer that knowledge. Accordingly, borrowing the signature “see one, do one, teach one” pedagogy from medical education will ultimately help students better bridge the gap between law school and the practice of law.

(Hat Tip: Ron Jones.)

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Judge Schiltz hit the nail squarely on the head. At least twice.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 29, 2010 1:33:25 PM

The is an imperfect comparison because of the residency period in the field of medicine, which is when the true practical training takes place. Additionally, no matter how well law schools may prepare their graduating students to hit the ground running into their professional lives, the hard, cold truth is that there are just too many young lawyers and not enough jobs. The marketability of med school grads has nothing to do with the manner in which they are taught, but rather the limited (perhaps intentionally so) supply of grads thanks to the relatively small # of medical schools in the U.S. Until the legal profession admits that about 1/3 of the law schools in the U.S. should be shuttered, the same problems will remain. Of course, law profs don't want to hear this because they have a vested interest in desiring more positions in their field.

Posted by: Wade | Apr 29, 2010 4:04:22 PM

This may be of interest,

Jennifer S. Bard, What we in Law Can Learn From Our Colleagues in Medicine About Teaching Students How to Practice Their Chosen Profession,36 J.L.Med. & Ethics 841 (2008).

I'd add a few comments:

1. I agree we have a lot to learn from medical school curriculums--primarily because they have spent a lot of time and money studying what works and what doesn't. Some of it is intuitive--they found students learned more when they were exposed to real patients from the very beginning-but every change made has been based on data.

2. The residency system does provide a great transition, but it is also heavily subsidized by the federal government.

3. Along those lines, it is certainly true that doctors have jobs waiting for them, but that's not just because the number has been kept artificially low. While most of the attention of late has been focused on how many people don't have health insurance, in this case the relevant factor is that about 70% of the population does.

Posted by: Jennifer Bard | Apr 30, 2010 12:55:41 PM