by John Nolon
In its late February article, entitled “As They Ponder Reforms, Law Deans Find Schools Remarkably Resistant to Change,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that law faculty use the “lecture-based model because it is cost-effective and convenient,” quoting Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of University of California’s Irvine School of Law. In the same article, Dean Richard Matasar of New York Law School bluntly states, “[w]e’re all old dogs trying to learn some new tricks, and all of us old dogs have got tenure and we’re not going any place.”
Patty Salkin of Albany Law School and I conducted a teaching survey in the land use law area and found remarkable evidence showing change in teaching skills in recent years. We suggest that the practical, emotionally-charged, interdisciplinary, and grounded nature of land use, as well as environmental and sustainable development law, make courses on these subjects ideal both for teaching skills and values and for integrating podium and clinical methods of instruction. (See Practically Grounded: Convergence of Land Use Pedagogy and Best Practices, Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 60, Number 3, February, 2011, at p. 519.) Our survey shows that the trend toward teaching practice skills in traditional doctrinal courses is underway, at least in the land use classroom.
Deans and professors are focused on this issue in part because the American Bar Association is planning to add “student learning outcomes” to the process of accrediting law schools. Drafting new rules for schools to follow has been delegated to the ABA’s Student Learning Outcomes Subcommittee. This six-member group is charged with the controversial task of determining the rules that schools must follow to determine and measure the skills that law students should have upon graduation. For further information on these accreditation issues see The National Law Journal of Feb 22, 2011.
Pace and Albany Law Schools are sponsoring a conference on this topic. On May 5th, nearly a dozen land use and environmental law professors from law schools across the country will present their skills and values teaching models. Additionally, our resident experts will facilitate extensive discussions regarding best practices for teaching practice skills to students in upper division courses. High on the list of discussion topics are the time practice teaching takes, class size issues, and the concern over lost doctrinal coverage. Please click here for conference information if you are interested in attending.