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Idea For March 2015

Student "Law Firms"

Photograph: Law students working in a group.One of the gaps in traditional law school education is the dearth of opportunities for students to practice working in groups. Unlike business school and medical school, where group work forms a large part of graduate-level education, law school professors and students alike have long resisted significant and graded small group activities. But group work is invaluable and builds skills that will be critical to success in the workplace. According to Barbara Gross Davis, "[r]esearchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats." (Barbara Gross Davis, 147 Tools for Teaching (1993)) The challenge, then, is to come up with an effective and fair design for group work in the law school context.

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Article For March 2015

Jeff Thaler, Meeting Law Students' Experiential Needs in the Classroom: Building an Administrative Law Practicum Implementing the Revised ABA Standards, (2015).

As we well know, but as television-viewers might not believe, much modern law practice occurs outside of the courtroom. An increasing amount of it involves advocating for clients in front of regulatory bodies, which necessarily implicates different skills from courtroom-based practice.

Jeff Thaler, Assistant University Counsel & Visiting Professor of Energy Law & Policy at the University of Maine Schools of Law & Economics, addressed this gap in education by creating a practicum course in administrative law. He offers blueprints for others to follow in his article Meeting Law Students' Experiential Needs in the Classroom: Building an Administrative Law Practicum Implementing the Revised ABA Standards.

The Revised ABA standards Professor Thaler's title mentions require learning outcomes related to student competency in substance, analysis, professionalism, and skills. Experiential learning opportunities, and specifically a practicum course, can target each of those core abilities. A practicum, as Professor Thaler defines, is "a teaching methodology enabling students to develop practical research, writing, and oral advocacy skill using real-world problems from a substantive area of the law in a classroom setting."

The practicum course Professor Thaler created was based on administrative and ethics law issues generally, with a particular focus upon regulatory issues involving wind power projects in Maine. His article details his syllabus, along with the requirements of his course. Students in his practicum classroom were given an evolving case study and tasked with writing client memos, orally presenting their results, direct and cross-examining expert witnesses, and presenting opening and closing arguments. Interspersed throughout the course, Professor Thaler arranged an impressive collection of panelists from the practice area to address the students on the substantive and procedural issues involved.

The article is short and wonderfully readable. He didn't authorize me to say this, but I would imagine, just judging from the tone of the article, that Professor Thaler would be incredibly welcoming of any questions and, to the extent you like what you read about the practicum course he created, would happily help you think through something similar.

To the extent that you're interested in this kind of learning experience for your students, check out the article and while you're online, go ahead and register for our experiential learning conference in June!
[Read fulltext at SSRN (453 KB PDF)]

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