An Evaluation of Ten Concerns About Using Outcomes in Legal Education
68 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2011 Last revised: 31 Dec 2012
Date Written: December 8, 2011
The recent legal education reform movement originated with academics but has been wholly embraced by concerned leaders in the bar, clients, legal employers, and judges. The movement became increasingly relevant because of the changing demands placed on the legal profession itself, and the concomitant need for new skills and strengths in graduating law students. Since 2007 the ABA has considered outcomes reform and through the work of the Standards Review Committee, it has undertaken a comprehensive review of the “ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools”. In July 2011, the SRC finalized proposals to require accredited law schools to “identify, define, and disseminate” anticipated student learning outcomes and to assess student learning and institutional effectiveness.
I have heard many a criticism, fear, and concern raised by legal educators in response to the call for outcomes assessment. Some warn that the legal education reform movement is a form of “over-correction”, while others fear that the redirection of energy and resources will undermine the legal academy’s scholarly and theoretical underpinnings. Some clinical faculty worry that outcomes will be used to steer resources towards simulation-based opportunities or to conflate the learning involved in direct client experience with the objectives of field placement opportunities. Still others caution that the outcomes movement is being used as a foil for efforts to deregulate legal education, eliminate tenure, and deprive educators of academic freedom.
Relying on the expertise of higher education experts, such as Professor Barbara Walvoord, this article examines some of the realities and misconceptions surrounding the use of student learning outcomes. It identifies the likely consequences of institutionalizing an outcomes model, acknowledges the pitfalls, and attempts to allay fears that are based more on antagonism to change than on likely risks.
Moving to a process by which we identify and assess outcomes while integrating theory, practice, and professional identity is not a simple matter, but it is an important one. Those who work on legal education reform need to be aware of the benefits, risks, pitfalls, and choices involved in institutionalizing an outcomes approach.
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