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July 31, 2008

Liveblogging the SEALS Conference 2008: Revamping the Law School Curriculum

Seals Mark Niles, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Washington College of Law

"Integrated teaching" -- Sometimes involves co-teaching, e.g. property + civil procedure profs collaborating on teaching Matthews v. Eldridge. Can also provide a bridge to upper-level courses.

Spring electives for all 1st-year students.


Edward Rubin, Dean, Vanderbilt University Law School

Revamping the curriculum to account for Dewey: education as training the mind. Langdell, of course, preceded Dewey -- and while it seem odd that, in trying to help law school pedagogy catch up, we're looking almost a century backward, as Rubin points out, neuroscience is starting to validate some of Dewey's theories (e.g. mirror neurons and learning by doing).

So -- each year looks different, moving from foundational to interactive. Skills targeted include problem-solving and working collegially with both peers and senior attorneys, not just making appelate arguments.

Another experience is to draft a statute, with the idea that it will teach a different way to read statutes; likewise with contracts (rather than adjudication of contracts). These are skills that also provide understanding of the underlying ideas.

Abolished most administrative tasks and devoted the time conserved to development.


Douglas Blaze, University of Tennessee College of Law

Tennessee is, opposite of most law schools, coming from practice and connecting to theory. All faculty have been the same, not distinguished between clinical and classroom.

Two tracks: advocacy and transactional, whithin which a progression among 2nd-3rd year experiences, culminating in a capstone project. For advocacy, trial as the capstone, so start from trial practice and evidence to build up, including negotiation, client counseling, clinical. For business, starting from introduction to transactions, taxation, with capstone such as a simulation for tax counseling, entity formation, or negotiation of a commercial lease, chapter 11 reorganization. These are huge investments: small classes requiring significant time for faculty.

Lessons: integrate, don't just add on (cf. Carnegie). An integrated faculty is better at integration. These commitments will have costs, financial and otherwise. Identify outputs -- what students have and need. And constantly revise.


How to protect junior faculty? Have them work in teams, decentralize the budget so that the teams control the resources for conferences, adjunct faculty, etc. Give them time -- for example, in unified tenure system, clinical teachers need time to develop scholarship.

How to deal with bar passage rates? Would be nice to see the bar changing their subject matter focus to match the law schools.

Are teams proto-departments, esp. if they have their own budgets? Not really -- faculty are often in different teams.

Advice for bringing more senior faculty along? Do the research and present the evidence: what are the "prestigious" law schools doing? Keep the process open and let them come up with their way of participating.

How do first-year electives fit in with the upper-level course, e.g. Intro to IP versus the upper-level IP course? Maybe make them the same. Or leave it flexible.

Administrative issues of sequencing -- scheduling for fall/spring, advising? "It's a pain."

What's the role of alumni? Do focus groups: what would you like to have had in law school now that you've had experience? What would you like to see in new hires? Since they're not educators, the results are not the same as the Carnegie Report. Very often, innovations fail because students don't buy in: a legitimacy gap because they don't want to be academics like us -- they usually want to be practitioners. With alumni input, this is not an intellectual frolic but actual market demand. With fast pace of change, this should be an ongoing dialogue with alumni.

How do these changes affect hiring? There's a lot of resistance to hiring people who are different. Definitely look for different people: Supreme Court clerks may not know that much about drafting. The basic question to ask is, "What are you really working on?" An informal survey of the top 30 schools is that about 50% of recent hires have Ph.D.s -- these are academics. Signal that we take teaching seriously. But there's a real tension between scholarship and training.

July 31, 2008 in Conferences | Permalink


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Great stuff, keep it coming... How many in attendance? Is it a given that the status quo needs to change?

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 31, 2008 3:03:47 PM

Sorry, Doug, I was only there for the day, and I couldn't blog my own presentation (!). I thought this was a particularly good one to have covered, though ;)

Posted by: Gene Koo | Aug 5, 2008 1:08:21 PM

Your description of Dean Ed Rubin's remarks intrigues me (especially since I am at Vanderbilt, where he is Dean). I have one question: If he has "abolished most administrative tasks" of the faculty, who do you think is performing those administrative tasks, which are mostly tasks related to faculty governance?

Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Aug 7, 2008 4:26:55 PM

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