Creative Initiatives at US Law Schools


In my June column, I outlined one of the papers from the Second National Symposium on Experiential Education in Law, which took place at Elon University in Greensboro, North Carolina in June 2014. The Alliance for Experiential Learning in Law and Elon University School of Law hosted the symposium.

This column will focus on Part V of the papers from the symposium, Creative Initiatives at US Law Schools (all the papers may be found at The US, with its large number of law schools, has the advantage of scale to allow its schools to act as a laboratories for experiments to improve legal education.

These [initiatives] run the gamut from full programs to singular examples, such as an innovative course. Some initiatives build on or give new direction to existing programs, such as clinics and externships… Taken as a whole, the breadth and variety of these any efforts signal that law schools hear, take seriously, and are responding to criticisms being leveled at legal education.

Categories of Law School Initiatives

The paper sets out seven categories of initiatives. Space constraints allow me to only briefly describe each one. My next column will look at some of them in more detail.

a) Require or Guarantee Experiential Education Opportunities

Over 10% of US law schools require a clinic, externship, or practicum experience for graduation, and several have a large experiential course credit requirement in addition to clinics or externship. Some guarantee that if a student wants a clinic or externship course, they will get it.

b) Simulation/Observation Courses (including labs and practicums)

Simulation courses generally have a lower enrolment for logistical reasons. The skills learned include counseling, research and writing, mediation, litigation, and problems solving. They vary in length and scope. Some simulation courses are a full year, while others are intensive short term.

Labs or practicums are offered at many law schools, often as a supplement to an existing doctrinal course. Other schools offer observational learning with a reflective component.

c) Structured Experiential Programs

Washington & Lee was the pioneer in re-structuring third year as an experiential experience. Other schools have optional structured experiential learning, either in third year or as a stream throughout law school.

New Hampshire and Arizona law schools have incorporated bar passage into their curriculum, similar to Lakehead in Ontario.

d) Deans/Directors/Chairs or Centres/Programs Focused on Experiential Education

Over 30 law schools have an associate dean, director, or chair for experiential education. Others have centres or programs for that purpose, including pro bono and public interest centres.

e) Pro Bono and Public Interest Initiatives with Experiential Components

Almost every US law school has public interest or pro bono initiatives, most of which are based on partnerships or collaboration with alumni, law firms, government, bar associations, or non-profits. They take the form of specialty clinics, externships, fellowships, and others.

In New York, the Court of Appeals in 2012 established a 50 hour pro bono service requirement for all bar admission candidates. The ABA is considering a similar requirement.

f) Post-Graduate Innovation

Two post-graduate innovations have appeared. The first is the incubator or residency program. The second is Lawyers for America that combines an entirely experiential third year with a subsidized job for one year after graduation.

g) Innovative Multidisciplinary Programs

Three trends in multidisciplinary programs are emerging:

  • Technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, and intellectual property;
  • Social work and legal partherships;
  • Medical-legal.

The Canadian Context

The US has moved ahead with dozens of initiatives. Here in Canada, Osgoode has a requirement for an experiential learning component, as well as volunteer work, in order to graduate. Lakehead incorporates the Carnegie experiential model in its curriculum so that its graduates are not required to article. Calgary is in the process of implementing its new “Calgary Curriculum” with experiential learning. Western will has created optional capstone courses for third year students. In other words, we are just getting started.

I would welcome hearing from Canadian law schools about their new initiatives in experiential education. I will talk about them in future columns.

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