Suggestions for Discussions about Legal Education

Law schools regularly arrange faculty talks and your colleagues may be particularly interested in talking about improving instruction, considering the current pressures on legal education. If you are involved in arranging speakers for your school, you might suggest that it sponsor a discussion about incorporating more practical problem-solving (PPS) in its courses. You might lead an in-house discussion in your own school or suggest inviting an outside speaker, such as a member of the LEAPS executive committee or one of our subject area consultants.

If you participate in a discussion about teaching PPS, here are some suggestions for making the discussion as productive as possible.

Frame the Discussion as Part of an Ongoing Conversation within the School about Improving Legal Education. Improving legal education often is a long-term process that may involve a series of conversations over a period of time. Your presentation may spark a conversation that will continue between individual colleagues afterward. If your school is in the process of considering improvements in its educational program, these conversations can help develop ideas for that larger discussion.

Explicitly Acknowledge Colleagues’ Good Will and Contributions. Discussions of legal education reform can fuel strong emotions because our identities are strongly tied to our academic work. Criticisms of legal education, whether justified or not, may unintentionally imply that faculty are incompetent or have bad motives. When faculty receive such messages (whether intended or not), they may not be as open to constructive interactions. In fact, most faculty do care a lot about teaching and are very conscientious about their work. Generally, the problems are due to deeply embedded instructional traditions and multiple time pressures. Even despite these constraints, many faculty invest their limited time to experiment with teaching methods to improve their instruction. You can promote a constructive conversation by explicitly acknowledging colleagues’ good will and educational contributions at the outset of the conversation.

Frame the Talk as a Conversation Between Colleagues Rather than a Lecture by an Expert. Many faculty have been creative in their instructional approaches, some for a long time. So your audience may include colleagues with valuable experiences to share. Explicitly acknowledging this can stimulate a collegial exchange of experiences and avoid unintentionally offending people by failing to recognize their efforts. (For example, some faculty who teach courses primarily focusing on doctrinal matters use some techniques suggested by LEAPS. They may prefer a term like “courses focusing primarily on teaching legal doctrine” instead of simply “doctrinal” courses.) It can be particularly valuable to invite faculty to describe their teaching techniques. Often, faculty have successfully experimented with creative techniques, unbeknownst to their colleagues. So the discussion can help people recognize the good work by their colleagues, who can consult with each other in the future.

Sympathize with Faculty’s Common Dilemmas. Faculty regularly struggle to overcome difficult barriers preventing us from teaching as much or as well as we would like. For example, many of us struggle with the desire to maximize “coverage” of topics in our courses. Even though we may intellectually understand that providing more breadth is likely to lead to less depth (and possibly less learning), it can be hard to resist including topics we think are important. And it can be especially difficult to omit material we have included in the past. Similarly, many faculty have competing time commitments, especially to produce scholarship. So faculty may feel that they do not have enough time to develop or implement new techniques.

Be Candid and Acknowledge Colleagues’ Concerns. The ideas that LEAPS suggests for incorporating more PPS in teaching can be difficult for faculty to implement (as described above). In addition, the changes in students’ learning based on LEAPS ideas may not be readily apparent (though potentially significant). When talking with colleagues, it can be helpful to invite them to identify their concerns and brainstorm ideas for addressing them.

Use or Adapt PowerPoint Presentations. If you have the chance to give a presentation about adding more practical problem-solving in law school courses, you may want to use or adapt this generic PowerPoint presentation. You may want to lead a discussion about the use of simulations and adapt this PowerPoint presentation about simulations, either separately or in combination with the generic presentation.

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LEAPS Increasing PPS Instruction.pptx90.2 KB
LEAPS Using Simulations.pptx81.28 KB