Achieving the American Bar Association's Pedagogy Mandate: Empowerment in the Midst of a 'Perfect Storm'

41 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2014 Last revised: 29 Aug 2018

See all articles by Cara Cunningham Warren

Cara Cunningham Warren

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

Date Written: August 7, 2014


The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar adopted new law school accreditation standards in 2014. These new standards articulate a pedagogy mandate that marks a “quantum shift” in our educational philosophy, moving our center from what is delivered to students to what students take away from their educational experience.

The pedagogy mandate is directly linked to preparing graduates to succeed in the evolving employment market. In this way, full achievement of the mandate also can be a protective measure for law schools. Ironically, successful implementation remains an open question because of the traditional nature of the academy, its resistance to change, and the expertise required to implement such changes.

This article seeks to change the dynamic. It begins by putting the 2014 Standards into historical context and explaining their impact on legal education. The author then moves to discuss full achievement of the mandate. Law schools are encouraged to overcome their resistance to pedagogical innovation and to embrace the mandate and its benefits. At the same time, this article seeks to empower law professors to be a driving force for change. Specifically, under the ABA’s new “outcomes” approach, professors are expected to create meaningful learning opportunities for students and to assess and improve the effectiveness of those experiences. To assist law professors in this regard, the author introduces a teaching effectiveness framework that was created by experts in education from the National Research Council of the National Academies and adapts it for use in legal education.

The legal community has relied on the NRC’s expertise for decades, in a wide range of fields, but the author believes this is the first time NRC expertise has been brought to bear in this context. The NRC is credited for its ability to bring the legal and scientific communities together and to make scientific theories accessible. In this way, the framework is a useful tool for law professors, especially those who are trained attorneys rather than certified educators, and improves the current state of our pedagogy scholarship by placing existing assessment and learning outcomes work in the broader context of modern learning theory and instructional design.

Keywords: learning outcomes, assessment, ABA accreditation, Revised Standards for Approval of Law Schools

Suggested Citation

Cunningham Warren, Cara, Achieving the American Bar Association's Pedagogy Mandate: Empowerment in the Midst of a 'Perfect Storm' (August 7, 2014). 14:1 Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal 139 (2014)., Available at SSRN: or

Cara Cunningham Warren (Contact Author)

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law ( email )

651 E. Jefferson
Detroit, MI 48226
United States

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