The Counterintuitive Costs and Benefits of Clinical Legal Education

13 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2016

Date Written: April 18, 2016


Professor Jason Yackee’s recent study, Does Experiential Learning Improve JD Employment Outcomes?, finding no relationship between a schools’ clinical offerings and student employment outcomes was greeted with skepticism by the clinical legal education (hereinafter “CLE”) community. If we may tentatively conclude from the study that clinical courses fail to give students any significant leg-up in the job market, then perhaps CLE entails some counterintuitive pedagogical costs and benefits that we ought to consider. Could it come at the expense of what is nowadays often touted as being precisely its goal, which is to equip students with practice-ready skills? Contrary to what they promise to students and employers, clinics provide a relatively poor platform for students to learn and master legal skills. Instead, the often unrealized potential of clinics is that they can foster in students a better understanding and appreciation of the legal theory and analysis that is the mainstay of their doctrinal counterpart. The most meaningful, lasting, and transferable lawyering skill is knowing how to interpret, manipulate, employ, and reform legal (and relevant interdisciplinary and extralegal) theory, doctrines, and practices when applying them to solve real-world client problems. Clinical education is most effective when it actively engages students to grapple with the applications and limitations of legal theory and doctrine and the ways in which to interrogate and innovate existing law and practices. Thus, CLE can be immensely valuable, but not for the reasons typically advertised.

Keywords: Legal Education, Clinical Education, Legal Skills, Legal Education Reform, Student Employment

Suggested Citation

Redding, Richard E., The Counterintuitive Costs and Benefits of Clinical Legal Education (April 18, 2016). Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2016, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Richard E. Redding (Contact Author)

Chapman University ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States
714-628-2688 (Phone)
714-628-2564 (Fax)

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