Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Rodriguez: Toward Evidence-Based Legal Education Reform — First, Let’s Experiment

Dan Rodriguez (Former Dean, Northwestern), Toward Evidence-Based Legal Education Reform: First, Let’s Experiment:

In my last post, Legal Education is a Data Desert (096), I described the deficiencies in data available and mobilized on behalf of clear-eyed assessment of legal education outcomes. While noting some conspicuous exceptions, I said that there’s simply not enough attention to the critical data necessary to evaluate legal education and, with it, to undertake and assess reform.

This post (121) continues this discussion by noting some of the questions that greater data would help illuminate through the development and use of experiments. In a later post, I’ll take a deeper dive into this data imperative, drawing some attention to data collection and analysis efforts that are currently underway.

To begin with some preliminaries, evidence-based legal education reform requires a commitment among stakeholders to the following principles:

  • The performance of law schools must be assessed on the basis of a set of delineated educational outcomes. These outcomes need not be universal, as law schools can and ought to develop objectives that are tied to their own strategic plans.  Moreover, there are enormous benefits from experiments, borne of the expertise of particular legal educators working on behalf of their institutions and tied to imaginative, focused goals forged in collective conversations by faculties and administrators in these law schools.
  • Although these objectives can be based upon local knowledge, each law school should be committed to setting out clearly their objectives, and hopefully in a very transparent way, and developing metrics of assessment. Inescapably, some of these metrics will involve qualitative criteria.  Consider, for example, the complicated matter of scholarly impact – citation analysis, sure, but impact can surely account for more qualitative factors.  And the vital question of student well-being entails qualitative measures also.  That all said, we meander away from the core of an evidence-based approach to performance and reform when we deny the many ways in which performance can and should be measured by quantitative analysis.
  • Quantitative and qualitative analysis must be evidence-based. An art more than a science? Hardly.  We have the great potential to employ the scientific method to assess performance, so long as we can responsibly collect and collate data.  We are not serving our many constituencies very well to glibly proclaim that, as to evaluating the work of law schools (the good, the bad, and the ugly) we more or less know it when we see it.

These principles should guide the effort to assess the performance of law schools against established objectives.  And, beyond the objectives forged internally, these principles should help us in the broad goal of making meaningful, measurable improvements.

Derek Muller (Pepperdine), Experimentation in Reforming Legal Education

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


I agree with the need for RTC, and I find many of the suggestions in your complete article valuable. However, I am bothered by your subtitle–First Let’s Experiment. The Carnegie Report and Best Practices appeared over ten years ago. We can’t wait another ten years to adopt better methods of teaching law students.

While legal education research is important, there is a mountain of research in general education that provides a guide for what law schools should be doing now. First, legal education researchers agree that active learning is much better for students than passive learning. Students remember more with active learning, and they are able to use that knowledge better than with passive learning. Therefore, every law school class, especially first-year classes, needs to incorporate problem-solving.

Other techniques that have proven effective are formative assessment, deep reading training, metacogitive training, and self-regulation learning training. More detailed techniques include scaffolding, clickers, and rubrics.

Law schools should also be teaching their students better study skills. For example, self-testing, interleaving, and spaced studying are very effective learning techniques, while re-reading and text highlighting are not.

I lay out all these approaches in detail in my book How To Grow A Lawyer: A Guide for Law Schools, Law Professors, and Law Students (2018). Let’s not wait another ten years.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Oct 23, 2019 2:51:01 PM