Recently, it snowed in Lexington. While Lexington does in fact own a fleet of snowplows, 17 inches in one snow is a lot, and this followed a double-digit snowfall about two weeks previously. At one point midway through the storm, I took a picture of my street as I found it remarkable that I could only tell where the street was by the mailboxes sticking out of the snow (see photo). The end result of the impressive displays of winter weather was six full days of cancelled classes, providing a good lesson for law students on the concept of force majeure, and quite a bit of time to catch up on reading.
I noticed a recurring theme across several of the law library publications I perused over hot chocolate: preparing practice-ready graduates. Interestingly, a couple of the pieces argued that more focus on non-law aspects of practice would help bridge the gap between study and practice. In a post on this blog, Ashley Ahlbrand suggests that business skills would greatly benefit law students. (Of course, she also points out that instructors of legal research often lack the time to cover adequately even core research skills, so incorporating practice management into the 1L LRW curriculum presents its own challenges.)
Similarly, in a recent article in Spectrum, Christine M. Stouffer examines some of the gaps between law school and practice and focuses on ways to close those gaps. She notes that although students learn the research basics, they receive little training on putting those basics into the context of performing “law firm tasks.” I found a couple of Stouffer’s suggestions intriguing. For instance, she highlights the benefits of collaboration and “team-based learning” in a flipped-classroom model. She mentions that some forms of flipped-classroom instruction involve assigning students to year-long work groups. In addition to the collaborative learning benefits, this structure mirrors the way many firms divide into practice groups.
Stouffer also advocates for experiential learning opportunities. One example is giving students “case files” from which they must extract the issues for their assignments. At teh University of Kentucky College of Law, we have done something like this. Our students’ major research assignments involve conducting and describing the research for their major writing projects. For each of these joint assignments, we give them packets that include an “assigning memo,” a partial trial record or depositions (depending on the procedural stage of the problem), and various other documents that have included mock Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, security camera photos, etc. The students must then analyze and synthesize the facts of their problem, and it works quite well.
A couple of other suggestions I encountered in my readings also struck me as helpful in increasing students’ practice-readiness. In a recent post for this blog, Thomas Sneed extols the benefits of bringing practitioners into the classroom. At Kentucky, we do this as a mandatory panel during students’ free “noon hour” so as not to sacrifice limited instruction time. Speaking of the time issue, many students would be more practice ready if they received more research instruction. I found Nancy B. Talley’s article in LRSQ interesting as she suggests incorporating librarian-led research instruction into independent studies. This would give more students a second bite at the research apple, as only a limited number of students typically make time for advanced legal research.
As a final note, I did encounter good news about practice-readiness, at least in terms of legal research skills. Christina Elizabeth Peura suggests in her LRSQ article that the gap between study and practice may not be as wide as feared. Peura found that literature on the subject indicated a wider gap than did the results of a survey she conducted. She surmises that law schools may now be teaching “effective research” but may not be imparting “efficient research.” As part of Peura’s argument she notes that research becomes more efficient the more tools a student/attorney knows how to use. Thus, it may be that methods such as those described here have been leading to more practice-ready graduates, but giving librarians more time to use these methods with students may also lead to more practice-efficient graduates.