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New Initiative Promotes Legal Ed Innovation and ‘Practice-Ready Lawyers’

Posted Aug 29, 2011 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A new initiative called Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers is encouraging law schools to experiment with interactive classes with the goal of producing more “practice-ready lawyers.”

Launched last week, Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers promotes innovative teaching with a new website to help educators learn from each other. The project is also planning conferences where law professors can share ideas.

Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers is managed by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at Denver University, a national independent research center dedicated to improving the civil justice system, according to a press release and a brochure. Sixteen law schools are partners in the initiative, including the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Stanford Law School.

Dan Drayer is director of marketing and communications for the IAALS. He worked with the group's executive director, former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, to respond to our questions about the program by email. Here is the Q&A, edited for length.

ABA Journal: What is Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers? An initiative, a website, or both? What are the goals?

Kourlis: Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers is encouraging and facilitating innovation in legal education in order to train new lawyers to the highest standards of competence and professionalism. The initiative is about more than just a website. The web component gives us a tool to showcase innovative teaching in law schools across the country, and it offers us a platform from which we can engage law professors, students, law firms and the public to share and discuss their work, raise questions about best-practice models in law schools, and find ways to continuously improve legal pedagogy.

ABA Journal: Why is there a need to reform legal education? What problems need to be addressed?

Kourlis: Traditional law classes featuring a professor at a podium directing questions at students may work in the first year when students need to understand legal theory, but by the second and third years, there is a greater demand for law students to engage in a practical way with the material. What’s at stake is how these students will arrive on the first day of a job as bar-certified attorneys. ... Law firms no longer have the time or money to give new hires on-the-job training. The clients recognize that time is money, and they know they’re paying for expertise from their counsel. Law classes must adapt to the changing needs of the profession. ... The resolution adopted at the ABA’s House of Delegates meeting in Toronto in early August calling on law schools to incorporate more practical training into the curriculum is just one example of a recent wave of support backing major changes in legal education.

ABA Journal: What is the target audience of the website? Legal educators? What will they find there?

Kourlis: We expect the greatest use initially of the website will be for law school professors and deans who will come to the site to find out what innovative teaching is already taking place and to glean lessons and skills that they can incorporate in their own classes. Further, we expect many law professors will submit their course materials for inclusion on the website. There is, after all, a financial incentive for them to submit: If professors successfully pass the editorial review process and are showcased on the website, their stipend for submission is $2,500.

ABA Journal: Can you provide an example of an innovative approach to legal education that is working?

Kourlis: Visit our website and you will see three examples of innovation: two professors from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and one from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. In Roberto Corrada’s labor relations law class, for example, students are encouraged to form a union at the outset of the semester and then learn about case law through practical experience operating as a union while Corrada serves as “management.” In many classes, his students file numerous unfair labor practice claims against him, which serve as a vehicle for further exploration of the law and the practical skills they will eventually need as attorneys.

Additional information:

Colorado Public Radio (podcast): “Changing How Law Students Learn”

Denver Post: “Denver University law school launches website on interactive learning”

Examiner.com: “University of Denver kicks off new program to create next generation of lawyers”

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