We all have our grievances about law school, as remote as it may or may not have been for us personally. Maybe what’s needed is greater academic discourse about the pedagogue of legal education.
The University of Western Ontario Law School is hosting Canadian Clinical Legal Education Conference on October 22-23, 2010. The program features a sitting Supreme Court Justice, legal academics, and legal administrators. Law societies should also be interested because John Campion, President of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) will also be speaking.
What will probably feature prominently during the conference is the 2007 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching report called Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law [pdf summary]. The report notes that legal education is fundamental to a flourishing democracy, and provides 5 key observations:
- Law School Provides Rapid Socialization into the Standards of Legal Thinking
- Law Schools Rely Heavily on One Way of Teaching to Accomplish the Socialization Process
- The Case-Dialogue Method of Teaching Has Valuable Strengths but Also Unintended Consequences
- Assessment of Student Learning Remains Underdeveloped
- Legal Education Approaches Improvement Incrementally, Not Comprehensively
The two major limitations identified under 3) above is that legal education rarely prepares students for professional practice, and fail to develop legal ethics and social skills.
Canada may have an advantage over our American counterparts through our articling process, which is not part of the typical classroom education but still considered a necessary component for preparation for the practice of law.
However, some educators are attempting to introduce more practical skills in the law school itself. The conference is hosted by Douglas Ferguson, who is the Director of UWO Law’s Community Legal Services clinic. Participating students get exposure to a wide variety of legal subjects and gain experience in handling client files.
“The legal profession is undergoing huge changes, while legal education has changed very little in decades,” said Ferguson. “The Carnegie Report has sparked major changes in law school curriculums in the US, and I think it’s time we launched a debate on legal education reform here in Canada.”
A foreshadowing of what’s to come in legal education? Perhaps, if educators want to keep students engaged and use tools they’re most familiar with outside of the classroom.