E-Net News

National symposium advances experiential education in law

The second National Symposium on Experiential Education in Law featured new research findings, immersive experiences in law practice, an increasing demand for innovation in law and legal education and keynote addresses. 

The interactive, technology-infused symposium fostered a robust exchange of knowledge and ideas among more than 150 participants from across the U.S. and Canada, including members of the legal academy and profession, and representatives from other disciplines including architecture, business and medicine.

A National Law Journal article reporting on the symposium is available here.

The symposium’s Twitter discussion platform – #transformlegalEDU – reached more than 8,000 Twitter accounts. Hosted by Elon University School of Law and the Alliance for Experiential Learning in Law, and supported by Northeastern University School of Law, the symposium took place June 13 to 15 at Elon Law in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina.  

Luke Bierman, Dean and Professor of Law at Elon University School of Law, opens the Second National Symposium on Experiential Education in Law, on June 13.

Luke Bierman, Dean and Professor of Law at Elon Law, said the gathering of law teachers, lawyers and colleagues from other disciplines was fortuitous at a time of transformation in the legal sector.

“We do share that common vision, that common idea that there is something afoot in our profession and in our academy, and that we should be engaged and involved in that work of trying to figure out how to make it better, how to make it responsive, how to stay relevant, how to help our students,” Bierman said, noting rapid growth in the number of law professors appointed to experiential learning stewardship positions. “That is a movement it seems to me and if there is a movement it is certainly appropriate to figure out what that movement means and how we can have the best impact and involvement in that movement. I think that’s in large part what this symposium reflects, a group of people, rowing as it is, to have some impact in a positive way for our students, for our institutions and for the profession, and all of that means really for the American experiment in self-government under the rule of law, and that is indeed a noble ambition.”

The website for the Second National Symposium on Experiential Education in Law includes the forum’s 3-day agenda and speakers, as well as a growing set of multi-media resources featuring symposium content.


William C. Hubbard, center, the President-Elect of the American Bar Association, spoke at Elon Law on June 14. He is pictured with Elon Law student and Leadership Fellow Ernest Lewis L'15 and Elon Law alumna Gwendolyn Lewis L'13

American Bar Association (ABA) president-elect William C. Hubbard called for innovators in law and legal education to shape the future of justice by creating more efficient and effective models for the delivery of legal services. Hubbard said new approaches to law practice were needed to address extensive unmet legal needs in American society and to leverage technologies that can increase access to justice. Hubbard detailed action plans for several prominent ABA bodies, including a soon-to-be-formed Commission on the Future of Legal Services.

“We need more creative disruptors,” Hubbard said. “We need more experiential education because that’s a change in the way we’ve done business. And we need new ways to provide legal services. Shouldn’t we take legal services to where the people are?”

A report on Hubbard’s keynote address at the symposium is available here.

William Henderson, Professor of Law, Van Nolan Faculty Fellow, and Director of the Center for the Global Legal Profession at the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University at Bloomington

Nationally prominent law scholar William Henderson presented research indicating that Northeastern’s Cooperative Legal Education Program (co-op) accelerates student professional development. Quantitative and qualitative data derived from student questionnaires and focus groups indicate that Northeastern students engage in more self-aware and deliberate career planning, Henderson said, enabled by personal insights they gain during nearly a year of full-time legal experience through the co-op program.  

“There’s the possibility that this educational design can make a huge difference,” Henderson said. “I want to put in front of you the idea that possibly this idea of a coordinated, sequenced model of legal education would be better than the autonomous model, the autonomous professor. We’re in a professional educational domain. It’s kind of high stakes what our students do. If we can increase the quality of learning, we’re delivering a good to society.”

A report on Henderson’s keynote address at the symposium is available here.

Alan Duncan, President of the North Carolina Bar Association

Alan Duncan, President of the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA), detailed for the symposium’s national audience some state-driven innovations supporting professional and career development of attorneys in ways that expand legal services to populations with limited access to the justice system. Duncan highlighted the NCBA’s NC Veterans Pro Bono Network, connecting attorneys to approximately 50 veterans services organizations to help meet legal needs within North Carolina’s approximately 800,000-person veterans population; the NCBA’s Transitioning Lawyers Commission, assisting lawyers in retirement, in part, by facilitating the mutually agreeable transfer of law firms to new attorneys seeking career opportunities; and, the NCBA’s Center for Practice Management, providing two full-time staff devoted to assisting attorneys with law firm start up, technology and practice management questions.

“As soon as students are in law school, they are a part of us,” Duncan said. “We [the NCBA] can do things that do not feel intrusive to them, but are truly supportive in terms of their development as lawyers. Our goal is not just to serve the profession, but to serve the needs of the people of North Carolina.”

The symposium’s opening roundtable surveyed issues that are influencing the advancement of effective, experiential legal education. University of Denver law professor Roberto Corrado noted pressures on law schools to replace unsystematic approaches with more integrative, outcomes-based curricular designs.

“There’s a push beginning for law schools to justify the law school experience, a push for a more cohesive vision for what the three-year law school experience is,” Corrado said.

Elon Law professor Steve Friedland, a co-chair of the symposium planning committee, with law professors Olympia Duhart and Bob Dinerstein, of the NOVA Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center and American University Washington College of Law respectively

NOVA Southeastern University law professor Olympia Duhart suggested that revised law school faculty development models could foster creative approaches in legal education.

“It’s a challenge for all of us to institutionally promote and protect junior faculty who want to bring innovations to law teaching,” Duhart said.

Elon Law professor Steve Friedland, a symposium planning committee co-chair, challenged legal educators to develop informed perspectives about contemporary law practice and modern law jobs for new attorneys, modifying teaching accordingly and thereby equipping students with knowledge, skills and best practices to excel in 21st century law practice.

“I teach evidence now as applied trial advocacy,” Friedland offered as an example. “It creates another opportunity to partner with the profession and an exciting part of the traditional law school classroom.”

Experiential program highlights from the law schools associated with roundtable presenters are available here.

Practitioners and teachers in medical, architectural and business sectors presented insights about experiential education components in their fields.

Perspectives from other disciplines illuminated new possibilities for experiential programs in legal education.

Symposium presenter Andrew Webster, Director of Innovation and Change Solutions at the executive education company ExperiencePoint, said the cross-industry dialogue fostered by the symposium was promising for the legal academy.

“The symposium was an extraordinary opportunity to share ideas with people committed to creating value in their communities by preparing legal professionals to serve in their emerging realities,” Webster said. “Innovation is rife in this network, and I anticipate more with their sharpening focus on their users: students and the clients they serve. The very fact that the symposium looks outside of the legal paradigm for inspiration, and outside of academia altogether to be challenged, is a sign of the innovative mentality that reigns here.”

"Perspectives from Other Disciplines" panelists included:

  • Dr. Kimberly Boland, Program Director, Professor of Pediatrics, Vice Chair for Medical Education, University of Louisville;
  • Debbie Chachra, Associate Professor of Materials Science, Olin College of Engineering;
  • David Gutterman, PhD, Clinical Director of Behavioral Medicine, LeBauer Health Care;
  • Marilyn Moedinger, Principal, Runcible Studios; and,
  • Raghu Tadepalli, Dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, Elon University.

These presenters described faculty- and employer-supervised practice experiences as essential and often-required components in the professional development of students and in the licensure process for entering professionals in their fields. They also emphasized the value to students of case-specific simulations as a form of holistic learning in their respective fields.

Boland noted a movement in medical education to eliminate strict lecture-form teaching, even in foundational courses, in favor of case-study approaches. She noted experiential learning raises new questions for medical educators, highlighting a debate about whether medical students should experience the death of simulated patients.

“Should we let the mannequins die,” Boland asked, noting that some medical educators valued the high-impact learning that occurred when students experienced lives at stake in relation to their degree of mastery and judgment, while others found harmful impacts among some medical students from the death of simulated patients.  

Gutterman highlighted the importance of the affective component of engaging real, live clients.

“In training programs for psychologists, simulations are short in the first year, but interactions with real clients in later years are very, very important,” Gutterman said. 

Moedinger described “Studio,” an aspect of architects’ professional training that provides students with creative, intensive, hands-on design experience, while also introducing students to the culture of architectural practice.

Tadepalli noted that business students in field placements are evaluated for the quality of their assigned work, written and oral communication skills, collaborative skills, professionalism, punctuality, time management and initiative.

“Business students who are creative and inquisitive excel in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments, because they have flexibility,” Tadepalli said.

Panelists, from left, who addressed challenges, barriers and opportunities faced by various disciplines in times of transformative change: Christina Benson, Associate Professor of Business Law, Elon University; Dr. Kimberly Boland, Program Director, Professor of Pediatrics, Vice Chair for Medical Education, University of Louisville; Bob Kuehn, Professor of Law, Director of Clinical Education, Washington University Law School; Bob Jones (moderator), Clinical Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Experiential Programs, Notre Dame Law School; and, Andrew Webster, Director, Change and Innovation Solutions, ExperiencePoint

Chachra described “a heavily-scaffolded experience” in practice-based learning for engineering students at Olin, involving progressive stages of responsibility.  She noted that while engineering students take on real and complex projects for clients as they advance in their program of study, first-year engineering students are assigned projects to create durable structures for 10-year olds, with their “clients” assigned evaluation responsibilities, resulting in a common student refrain that, “there’s nothing worse than a 10-year old with a clip board.”

An "Innovation Demos" session featured creative adaptations and ideas that have been developed since the inaugural 2012 symposium. Martha Davis, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the NuLawLab at Northeastern University School of Law discussed the NuLawLab’s projects, engaging students in teams using design approaches to transform community access to legal information and advocacy.

John Garvey, Professor of Law and Director of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program at University of New Hampshire School of Law, described the Honors Program as a two-year bar practicum. It eliminates the two-day bar exam and in its place offers a two-year exam. Students develop their skills and judgment in both simulated and clinical settings. They counsel clients, work with practicing lawyers, take depositions, appear before judges, create basic business documents and learn to negotiate and mediate. They create portfolios of written work and videos of oral performances that are viewed by their bar examiners after each semester.

Katherine Schulte, Staff Attorney at Casa Myrna Vasquez described the “Practicum” Course as an innovative model for integrating the three core methodologies of experiential legal education: classroom simulation, clinic and co-op. This model, which has been piloted for two years at Northeastern University School of Law, leverages multiple pedagogies and principles of adult learning theory to offer students a six-month immersive experience in a particular field of practice.

Attorney John Demasi with Legal OnRamp, described his company as, “the leader in integrating people, process and technologies for super-complex mega-projects like Dodd-Frank compliance, enabling newly-minted lawyers to combine their skills to lead the next generation of law."

Elon Law student and Leadership Fellow Shoshanna Fried L'15, center, interviewed symposium participants, including Loyola New Orleans College of Law professor Christine Cerniglia Brown, pictured at left, to develop resources for reporting on the symposium in the online Journal of Leadership and the Law. 

"Clients in a networked world need to move their work to linked, manageable forms so they can work with the legacy better and create new work product with quality and efficiency,” DeMasi said. “That’s true whether it’s a bank with 50,000 contracts, a company trying to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or 50,000 federal prison inmates filing petitions through a clemency project. Young lawyers can learn more about clients and law, and use their collaboration skills to help re-invent how law gets done."

Representatives from working groups established at the 2012 Inaugural National Symposium in Experiential Education in Law presented developing research in six areas:

  • creative initiatives at law schools;
  • cost and sustainability measures for experiential legal education,
  • integration of experiential learning into the law school curriculum,
  • integration with the profession;
  • defining a vision and mission for the experiential education movement;
  • and, tracking the developing rhetoric of experiential education in law schools.

Symposium participants influenced all six areas of inquiry by providing insights in extended breakout sessions. Working group representatives concluded the symposium by summarizing breakout session discussions and their implications for each area of research and innovation.

Margaret Barry, Co-Chair of the symposium planning committee, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Clinical and Experiential Programs at Vermont Law School, presented on behalf of the Alliance’s Integration with the Profession Working Group. 

“In clinical legal education, one of the strengths we have is that we are connected with the community in which our students are working and in which clinical faculty work as practitioners,” Barry said, referencing Vermont Law’s General Practice Program, “which draws intentionally on members of the practicing bar to teach in that program and through it with a skills-based orientation.”

Barry noted the growing involvement of practicing attorneys in law school advisory committees and efforts at law schools to further connect students with the legal profession through local bar and American Inns of Court memberships. 

“The question that we ended up with is how do we set a platform for making that input more intentional,” Barry said. “How do we develop the connections [with the profession] that we know are there, but are not really informing how law schools are looking at what their curricular design could be?”


New York Law School professor Stephen Ellman presented on cost and sustainability questions involving experiential legal education. He noted that input from breakout sessions highlighted the need to clarify the benefits of experiential legal education, not only to for current law students, but also in serving the interests of prospective law students and cultivating the employability of graduates. Ellman noted agreement in the breakout session on the opportunity for experiential programs to become a greater source of revenue for law schools, reiterating a theme at the symposium that law school alumni, donors and foundations value experiential education. Research by Washington University Law School professor Bob Kuehn, closely associated with his symposium report on the costs of experiential legal education, is available here.

Notre Dame law professor Bob Jones reported that symposium discussions surrounding the integration of experiential learning in the curriculum encouraged greater attention on upper level legal writing, the advising function of effective experiential learning and the need for research on the sequencing of law courses and experiential programs to maximize student development of legal competencies and skills.

University of Minnesota law professor Sharon Reich Paulsen said that a thorough explanation of the value of integration with the profession was needed to illustrate not only the importance of practicing attorneys as teachers at law schools, but the value of a broader integration of students, schools, faculty and the practicing bar. Deeper integration with the profession could enhance law student mentoring and school knowledge about needs of the practice and the profession, Paulsen said.

American University law professor and experiential education dean Bob Dinerstein presented on vision and mission efforts in experiential education, noting themes among symposium participants that experiential education should be framed as a means to specific learning outcomes.

“We need to help schools understand what experiential education is, why they should do it and understand it in a substantively appropriate way,” Dinerstein said. “Experience has to be more than throwing something in and hoping something good will come out of it.”

Symposium participants socialized and explored history at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, above, and at the Blandwood Carriage House, both near Elon Law in downtown Greensboro, N.C.

University of Massachusetts School of Law professor Justine Dunlap and Quinnipiac University School of Law professor Carolyn Wilkes Kaas summarized efforts of the working group charged with creating a glossary of experiential education terminology in law schools. They found agreement on the need first for an introduction that illustrates the purposes of the glossary for broader audiences and second for greater attention to terms relating to students’ experiential development of skills in legal communications and research methods. Dunlap and Kaas proposed a process to seek agreement, finalize the meaning of terms and adopt terms in writing.  ‚Äč

The final plenary session of the symposium updated attendees on developments in the regulatory and related landscapes of legal education since the first symposium, with particular focus on changes to ABA Accreditation Standards, the emerging framework of state bar regulation, the ABA task forces on the future of the legal education and the financing of legal education, and how these developments will affect the Alliance’s work. Presenters on this panel included Stephen Ellmann, Professor of Law and Director of the Office of Clinical and Experiential Learning, New York Law School; Linda Morton, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Experiential Learning, California Western School of Law; and, Sarah Valentine, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor, CUNY School of Law.

Symposium participant Jay Finkelstein, a partner with DLA Piper LLP, reflected on the value of the three-day forum.

"The symposium was an amazing confluence of thought on how to enable law students to obtain both key practice skills and an awareness of the myriad practice challenges necessary to prepare them for the profession into which they will graduate," Finkeltein said. "The symposium presented a rich exchange of ideas and a consensus that the momentum to improving legal education through experiential learning will benefit both students and the profession. As a practitioner and adjunct professor who has devoted significant time to thinking about how to convey to students through experiential learning what a transactional lawyer does, it is a pleasure to interact with such dedicated and insightful academic colleagues who are similarly focused."

In concluding conversation, symposium participants expressed broad support for an online clearing house of information relating to experiential legal education and recurring national meetings to advance research and discussion about experiential learning in law.


Philip Craft,
6/16/2014 7:20 AM