Review: Reflective Practice in Legal Education: The Stages of Reflection

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By Gerry Hess from Gonzaga University School of Law

“Good Judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

So begins Professor Casey’s article on reflection and judgment. Most lawyers and judges rank judgment as a critical skill for legal professionals. Yet many law professors struggle with the question of how to teach their students professional judgment. Professor Casey’s article offers an organizational model for teaching reflective practice as a way to build the skills, values, critical thinking, and judgment necessary to solve complex problems.

The six stages of reflection are the heart of Professor Casey’s article. He grounds each stage in theories of cognitive development and moral development. And for each stage of reflection, Professor Casey identifies appropriate questions teachers can use to prompt student reflection.

Stage 1. Competence. What would a competent lawyer do in this situation? What would be necessary to achieve a basic level of competence? Did you meet that standard?

Stage 2. Difference and Choice. Is there more than one way to accomplish your objective? At what point in the performance did you make a choice? Were you aware of making the choice?

Stage 3. Internal Context. What internal factors affected your choices? What personal preferences, characteristics, experiences, and biases affect your professional performance?

Stage 4. External context. What external factors affected your choices? What preferences, characteristics, experiences, and biases of other people (such as clients, other lawyers, and judges) affect your professional performance?

Stage 5. Societal Context. What societal factors affected your choice? How do systematic power dynamics, political and social realities, and economic forces affect your professional choices?

Stage 6. Metacognition. How has your thinking process developed as a result of this performance? How has your thinking process developed as a result of your prior reflections?

Professor Casey recognizes two challenges to teaching reflective practice. First, students may think reflective practice is unimportant because it does not focus on substantive knowledge. Second, teachers may be disappointed in the low level reflections student produced in their classes. Professor Casey’s stages of reflection model addresses both problems. He makes a persuasive case for the role of reflective practice in developing sound professional judgment. And his prompts can help teachers help students to deepen their reflective practice.

By the way, all of the prompts that Professor Casey developed for students could be applied to teachers’ reflections on their own professional performance. But that is another story…

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