Review: The Integrated Law School Curriculum

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By Andrea Boyack, Washburn University School of Law

Adam Lamparello, The Integrated Law School Curriculum, 8 Elon Law Review 407 (2016) [Read fulltext at Elon Law Review website (664 KB PDF)]

Professor Lamparello, Associate Dean for Experiential Learning at the newly inaugurated Indiana Tech Law School, lays out the case for a law school model integrating doctrinal, practical, and clinical legal education and then explains his school’s innovative plan to achieve that vision. By so doing, he and his institution take one brave step to follow the ABA’s advice for legal academia, to evolve through experimentation (“take thoughtful risks” – see Report and Recommendations of ABA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education (304 KB PDF).

The justifications cited by Lamparello for an integrated law school curriculum are as familiar as they are compelling. He echoes the call for vertical integration among courses as a way to better prepare students for legal practice, stating that “law schools must re-think the traditional ‘silo’ model of legal education, in which the three pillars of legal education – doctrinal, skills, and clinical courses – are nestled into separate parts of the curriculum, as if one has no relation to the other.” He notes that learning is best done in context, that assessments should be coupled with opportunities for students to incorporate feedback and revise assignments, and stresses the broad and important role for legal writing instruction. He explains the meaning and importance of seven types of competency-based learning outcomes.

But in addition to joining the chorus calling for better curricular integration, student assessment, and faculty collaboration, Lamparello also sings an interesting solo detailing his vision for precisely how this integration might be designed. Lamparello advocates for a quantum leap – rather than incremental – type of curricular change, noting that “a fully integrated, competency-based, and experiential program of legal education requires structural and sequential changes to the curriculum.” His vision involves an unusually high level of collaboration among faculty members so that classes all operate in support of and in the context of one organizing and comprehensive, multi-issue hypothetical that law students will be “litigating” throughout their three years of law school. This cross-curricular hypothetical sets up the framework for students to immediately start integrating various doctrinal areas of the law.

The sample hypothetical included in Lamparello’s article raises a surprising number of diverse issues, ranging from divorce and domestic violence to fraud, fine print, and consumer financial protection to due process rights and judicial ethics to negligence, causation and manslaughter. It also sets up a framework for students to learn lawyering skills in a chronological way (in the order in which they would be used in practice). For example, first semester students would perform a client interview, draft a retention agreement, research case law on first-year topics, and draft a predictive memorandum and then a complaint. Second-semester students would engage in the next steps of simulated litigation practice, including drafting motions, answers, and discovery requests. Third semester students would draft an appellate brief. The cross-curricular hypothetical does not substitute for doctrinal classes, but rather sets up a simulated laboratory for principals, presumably learned in a more traditional Socratic exchange, to be applied and honed. Each first-year doctrinally focused course would be carefully organized to coincide with and support the cross-curricular hypothetical. For example, criminal law would cover mens rea and actus reus to prepare the students to draft interview questions for the hypothetical client charged with manslaughter. Contract formation principals would support student drafting of a retention agreement. And civil procedure study of pleading requirements and jurisdiction would immediately be put into context through drafting the jurisdictional and fact sections of a complaint.

In addition to having all courses link together through the core hypothetical fact scenario, Lamparello’s vision also includes a six-semester legal writing program and a five-semester clinical program that would support the school’s overarching student learning objectives. The described legal writing program would provide students with specific instruction and individual feedback on their written work products in connection with the cross-curricular hypothetical, and its six-semester structure allows deliberate instruction not only with respect to basic persuasive writing and legal document drafting, but with respect to transactional drafting, the art of editing and re-writing, and methods of narrative storytelling. The five semesters of “live-client clinic” experiences are designed to complete the comprehensive bridge into practice, giving law students client experiences as early as their second semester, building up from screening interviews to litigation teams, to small-scale litigation representation, to “capstone course” primary client representation of clients “on complex matters at the trial and appellate level.”

Lamparello’s vision is undoubtedly ambitious, both in terms of how carefully tailored the three-year plan and each semester must be, but also in terms of how intensively faculty must collaborate to achieve success within the plan. Excruciatingly detailed preparation and collaboration would be required to successfully implement the program, from coordinating specific dates and content for topic coverage in each course and coordinating assignments among various faculty members. And this planning and implementation of the integration plan is just on the front end of the three-year program. Faculty must also continually coordinate and devote significant time and resources to provide students with the high level of individualized feedback and instruction that Lamparello envisions.

It may be that Lamparello’s truly integrated three-year plan for law school learning is unattainable, at least in an imperfect world with limited resources and instructional competencies. But his shoot-for-the stars aspirations can at least shake things up in the legal academy and inspire others to think of ways – large and small – to achieve the curricular design improvements that nearly all pedagogical scholars are calling for: integration of doctrines, skills, and practice; breaking down walls between topical silos; and building bridges from legal study to the actual practice of law.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning