A Practice Continuum: Integrating Experiential Education into the Curriculum
7 Elon L. Rev., 2015, Forthcoming
41 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2015 Last revised: 30 Jun 2015
Date Written: November 1, 2014
Legal education has been inundated in the last decade by criticism that many graduates are unable to function competently in today’s practice venues. Although the term “practice-ready” is at best elusive and at worst impossible, law schools continue to grapple with the most fundamental question: how to educate law students so that they can enter the legal market as competent, ethical lawyers. Some argue the traditional law school curriculum teaches law students how to find the law and analyze the law. Others state that it exposes students to legal skills and may provide opportunities for immersion in real practice. However, what the traditional law school curriculum generally does not do is integrate doctrine, skills, and practice in a way that allows students to understand their simultaneous integration to serve clients’ needs.
Drawing on the lessons laid out in two major reports on the state of legal education — Best Practices for Legal Education and the Carnegie Report — this article addresses integration by infusing experiential education throughout the “traditional” curriculum. The Article proposes a continuum of legal education focused on practice: a system where a student’s experience begins with the traditional doctrinal classroom but his or her role can be expanded beyond that of a passive listener, moves to simulation courses where the student first begins to put his or her doctrinal knowledge into practice, and culminates in an immersion into real practice through an externship or field placement, where the student’s role emulates the role of the practicing attorney as closely as possible. Ultimately, the Article recommends a set of best practices specific to the practice continuum, while acknowledging the challenges involved in shifting the legal academy’s inertia towards a more experientially integrated curriculum.
Keywords: legal education, curricular reform, experiential education, clinical education, law clinic, externship
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