Barriers to Entry: Putting It Together, School by School
Journal of Experiential Learning, Vol. 2, Iss. 1, Art. 9, 2016
29 Pages Posted: 15 May 2017
Date Written: January 15, 2016
Implementing experiential learning options, especially through simulation courses, is a major current topic in legal education as law schools address the new mandates of ABA Standard 303. Efforts to expand transactional law classes are also continuing to provide more practical skills training to law students.
This article reflects upon the effort, and the journey, that has resulted in this successful quest to have an experiential, extended simulation, transactional law class incorporated into the curriculum at multiple law schools and to have a positive impact on legal education. It also reflects upon the challenges and obstacles, as well as the advantages, faced by those outside the academy who are willing and able to participate in the efforts to make a legal education more relevant to the current practice of law.
The class, International Business Negotiations, following multiple years of being offered at American University, Washington College of Law, has been added to the curriculum at seven of the top 14 US law schools as well as 10 additional US law schools and 11 international law schools (data as of May 2017). In most cases, the class is taught collaboratively between two law schools with each law school class representing one side to the transaction and being brought together for live negotiations throughout the semester or quarter using either face to face meetings or video conferencing.
As we strive to improve legal education and particularly to focus on “practice oriented” law classes, we need more involvement by those who are most conversant with the skills of practice – the practitioners. To do so, we need the doors to the academy to be open to communication and receptive to innovative concepts. We need to suppress protectionist systems that have distanced the academy and practitioner. The journey described herein has been unique and deliberate, and it is not one that many other practitioners would follow. For legal education to evolve, however, it will be necessary to build further collaboration and to dismantle the barriers between legal education and law practice. There needs to be more dialogue and fewer barriers to entry.
Law schools need to demystify the process of access to the academy and work to develop practitioner collaboration that can support efforts to expand practical skills legal education. Academic deans can begin the dialogue by reaching out to local bar associations to let it be known that experienced practitioners who have proposals for innovative classes or who are willing to work with faculty to develop innovative methods for teaching practical skills will be welcomed. Classes that showcase effective teaching of doctrine and practice skills should be encouraged, and faculty should be incentivized to work with practitioners to test new models of instruction. Successful efforts should be acknowledged, publicized, and replicated, even between law schools. Faculty will certainly need to make changes and become comfortable with new means to integrate doctrinal instruction and practical skills, but the result will be worth the investment: law school graduates will be better prepared to begin their legal careers; they will not be experienced practitioners, but they will be “practice aware.” Working together, the academy and practitioners can begin to break down the barriers in order to construct a new collaborative foundation to improve the academic preparation for the profession.
Keywords: Legal Education, Experiential Learning, Transactional Law, Simulation Courses, Collaborative Pedagogy, Practical Skills
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