Adaptive Clinical Teaching

Clinical Law Review, Vol. 19, pp. 517-553, 2013

Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 13-025

38 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2012 Last revised: 18 Oct 2013

See all articles by Colleen F. Shanahan

Colleen F. Shanahan

Columbia University - Law School

Emily A. Benfer

Columbia Law School

Date Written: November 16, 2012


Legal education has a clear mission – to develop competent and committed members of the legal profession – but this goal can be an elusive one to meet. This is because legal educators often develop their most effective approaches to teaching through trial and error and instinct. A microcosm of this struggle for effective legal teaching is clinical legal education’s distinct set of commitments, pedagogy and teaching methodologies. Building on the trials, errors, and instincts of clinical teachers, this article offers a more intentional approach for designing, teaching, and supervising in a clinic: “adaptive clinical teaching” (ACT). ACT is a structured method of guided analysis and reflection that applies to any clinical teaching situation, allowing a clinician to make her teaching choices based on as much knowledge and with as much intentionality as possible. One of the advantages of this method is that it provides clinicians with an approach for new issues as they arise and builds a base of knowledge so that each clinical choice is not experienced anew. This article offers clinicians – and ultimately all legal educators – a systematic framework to apply ACT to their own teaching and an example of the application of ACT to demonstrate how the method encourages replacing instinct with deliberate strategies for teaching and supervising. It is the authors’ hope that clinical teachers will use the ACT model to create collections of knowledge for themselves and their colleagues, to challenge and broaden their teaching instincts, and to maximize learning for clinic students. It is the authors’ belief that these insights and the collected knowledge that results will translate to legal education more broadly.

Keywords: legal education, clinical teaching, legal educators

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Shanahan, Colleen F. and Benfer, Emily, Adaptive Clinical Teaching (November 16, 2012). Clinical Law Review, Vol. 19, pp. 517-553, 2013; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 13-025. Available at SSRN:

Colleen F. Shanahan (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Emily Benfer

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10009

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics