Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

LSSSE Releases Annual Report: Laptops Help Student Learning, Law Schools Lag in Teaching Legal Writing

LSSSE2008AR The Law School Survey of Student Engagement today released its annual report, Student Engagement in Law Schools: Preparing 21st Century Lawyers.  Among the findings:

Laptop computer use and its educational implications have sometimes generated heated debate among legal educators. LSSSE findings show that student use of laptops for keeping and reviewing notes and calling up previously briefed cases goes together with high levels of engagement in courses. So when used effectively, laptops may well enhance learning, rather than being a substitute for other kinds of course engagement or simply a distraction.

In the crucial area of legal writing, the 2008 findings are more complex and unsettling. Nearly half of responding students reported that they have not had enough practice in developing their legal writing skills in situations matching or approximating real-world legal practice. At the same time, students reported that such practice-oriented writing assignments were particularly effective in enhancing their legal research and communication skills. So, while in aspiration much of legal education is starting to move beyond an exclusive focus upon “thinking like a lawyer,” in practice the schools generally have a long way to go to make those aspirations real achievements.

The questions about how schools foster professionalism resulted in perhaps the most intriguing finding. The size of the student body as well as mission of the school turns out to matter significantly for the formation of ethically cognizant and publicoriented lawyers. Students at smaller schools and those with religious affiliation do best in these important areas. In this as in the case of legal writing, this year’s LSSSE findings are important feedback for legal educators bent on improvement.

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