Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 14, 2013

More on Washington & Lee's 3L Program

W&L LogoFollowing up on last month's post, Washington & Lee Is the Biggest Legal Education Story of 2013:  The Legal Whiteboard:  Jim Moliterno Answers Questions on W&L's 3L Program; Supplies Additional Data on W&L:

My previous post on Washington & Lee's 3L Program stirred a lot of interest and commentary, including some disbeleiving critics.  Fortunately, Professor Jim Moliterno agreed to write a reply essay, below, that completes the cycle. ...

Are students really coming to W&L because of the new curriculum?  Yes, to a significant extent. How do we know?  Because the entering students say so. ...

There is empirical evidence that the W&L curriculum reform is engaging students more than in the traditional “no plan” third year curriculum. Is it perfect evidence? Of course not.  Is it definitive evidence that has no flaw? Of course not. Is anything ever supported by perfect, definite evidence that has no flaw? Not to my knowledge.  We make all of our most important decisions in life based on the best available evidence. As long as the evidence is empirically sound and statistically significant, it is worthy of respect. The evidence of W&L 3L engagement increases is sound and statistically significant and marks a path toward further research and verification. ...

Here is what the empirical evidence from the LSSSE surveys shows and what it does not show: students are more engaged in their work and their work includes more writing, more collaboration and more problem solving. Here are a few charts even more striking than those Bill used in his post. Together they say that significantly more than their peers or their predecessors at W&L, current third year students are working more, writing more, collaborating more, applying law to real world problems more, and preparing for class more often. Overall, they describe a harder-working, more engaged student body. And they are working harder at acquire the skills that matter to success as a lawyer. ...

Legal education and the legal profession are at a crossroads. Applications are strikingly down for a reason. Schools can stand pat if they choose, and some have the market power to do so for a significant time after change would be prudent and effective. All others do so at their peril. Change is not good merely for change’s sake. But it is not prudent to stay the same when the world has changed. The practicing branch has changed; client needs and demands have changed; the society that the legal profession claims to serve has changed. Only legal education (and the organized bar) now remain stubbornly tied to anachronistic ways. The legal profession itself and legal education in particular, live as if they had eyes on the back of their head, but none on their face. Only what is past seems to be valued-- Even when what has past has no empirical basis and the conditions in which it exists have dramatically changed.

Bill Henderson based his opinion on good data.  Not perfect data but good data. Data sufficient to guide decisions in most realms of life and work.  The responses to Bill’s post to date have been based on virtualy no data, but rather on surmise and rumor and vague impressions of W&L’s. My fondest hope would be that many thoughtful, careful innovators pursue their projects and produce as much data as the legal education project allows.  This is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. But the W&L reform is one that preserves the best of a traditional legal education while enhancing what can be improved about traditional legal education. It does not deny the value of academic work. It does not deny the value of traditional teaching methods. It adds to them third year experiences that the best data available shows are having positive effects.

Update:  David Bernstein (George Mason) offers a more skeptical view here.

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