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July 15, 2010

How could (and should) field trips become a regular part of law school experiences?

Over at The Faculty Lounge, Matt Lister has a great post titled "Field Trips for Law School Classes." In addition to discussing his field trip plans to take his students to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Matt touched off a great comment dialogue by asking to "hear what people think of the idea, and if anyone else has incorporated field-trips into their teaching, and if so, how well they worked."

I have long thought that law school instruction could benefit from more field-trips, and I am often disappointed that my own inertia combines with structural/logistical challenges to prevent me from taking many of my classes on multiple trips. Especially for my bigger classes, I worry (perhaps too much) that many students will not be able to fit a multi-hour trip into their schedules and/or that those who cannot attend will feel unfairly disadvantaged by missing the trip. In addition, trips are rarely cost- or complication-free even if planned locally and only for a small group.

With these realities in mind, Matt's post got me to wondering if law students and/or faculty would possibly get behind the idea of working the field-trip concept into law school norms -- e.g., by having a few days each semesters specially "reserved" for trips and the allocation of some special funds to support the trips. Alternatively (or perhaps in addition), law schools might try to schedule mega-trips for the whole student-body, such as a local courthouse trip during orientation week for 1Ls or a law firm trip before on-campus interviews during 2L week.

Do readers think this is crazy talk, or might there be an innovative idea worth developing here?

Posted by DAB

July 15, 2010 in Serving students, Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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Students will see almost nothing of their books in the real world, and nothing they see in the real world will be covered in class. Even if you invite guest speakers, they will not discuss all the corners they cut, nor the shady methods they use to get through their day.

Should first year med students be made to assist in surgery and autopsies as part of anatomy class? No doubt. The message: even if you know 100% of the information in this artificial anatomy course, you will still be lost in real world practice, and knowing everything in the course is just a beginning. Knowing the flagged structure, its connections, and its functions is quite diffrent from finding it in a live unopened patient, removing it without damaging its connections and surrounding structures.

Crim Law students should ride along in police cars and tell the officers when to act, to try their hand applying the rules they are learning. They should interrogate suspects. They should sit in on plea negotiations, where neither attorney knows anything about facts, the people, or the crimes. They should try to dispute a traffic ticket, using the criminal procedure they acquired, and experience the crushing pressure to settle the case.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 17, 2010 7:48:23 PM

A trip with Dan Freed's class to a prison profoundly changed my outlook and helped me choose my vocation. I agree, Doug-- we too rarely use this tool.

Posted by: Mark Osler | Jul 19, 2010 9:57:36 PM

Hi Doug,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments on my post. I'm sorry to respond so slowly- I'm fairly unsophisticated in blog workings and so hadn't noticed the response, though I should have. I think that trying to work out formal ways to make field trips easier is a great idea. I should add, in response to SC's comment above, that I think it's a very nice idea for students, especially those interested in any aspect of criminal law, to try to ride along with a police officer as well, where this is possible. (My impression is that different departments have quite different rules on the matter.) I've been able to ride along with police officers quite a few times, and see quite a lot of different situations because of this, that have had important influence for my thinking about criminal law. I suspect that it would be a hard thing to set up for a whole class, even in a city that made such activities fairly easy, but I do think it's something that should be encouraged.

Posted by: Matt Lister | Jul 31, 2010 10:39:21 PM

I agree - getting students out of the classroom and into real legal practice settings are essential to their professional development. Attached is a short column about the 5-6 annual field trips I take with my students - visits to practicing lawyers in their offices. All are intended to teach students the different cultures of legal practice. Students often comment these trips are among the most valuable experiences of the One L year.

Posted by: Sarah Ricks | Sep 19, 2010 12:33:21 PM

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