Leiter on Law Schools and Experiential Education
No one wants to let a crisis go to waste, and the current crisis afflicting many American law schools is no different. As I noted previously, the recession in the legal market, together with better reporting of employment outcomes, has triggered a huge downturn in applications to law schools. Most law schools in the country right now are facing either declining enrollments or finding that they must offer steeper discounts on tuition to enroll the students they want; either way, law schools are under financial stress. This sensible market correction will eventually reach a new equilibrium, perhaps soon.
Unfortunately, everyone with a pet pedagogical agenda recognizes this crisis as their chance to push their "reform." The proposal with the most traction -- an influential committee of the American Bar Association is now considering it -- would require every law student at every ABA-approved law school in the country to complete fifteen credit hours of "experiential learning" courses in order to graduate.
"Experiential learning" courses can include clinical work (where students work under the supervision of faculty in representing real clients), externships (students receive academic credit for work in, say, a judge's chambers), and "simulations" (e.g., students participate in "mock" settlement negotiations. No one disputes the value of experiential learning courses for many, perhaps even most, law students. The only real question before the ABA is whether to require more than another half-year of required coursework after the first year. That is, to put it simply, a terrible idea.