50 University of San Francisco Law Review 245 (2015)
With the challenges facing law schools because of declining enrollment and lower job placement rates, there has been an increased push for more practical training in law school. In fact, a number of law schools are now using the phrase "practice-ready" to promote the practical training provided to their students. Additionally, the new accreditation standards from the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar ("ABA Section on Legal Education") focus more on teaching students professional skills. The most significant changes to the standards require law schools to integrate learning outcomes and assessment into their curriculum, with the goal of improving student learning.
Additionally, students at every law school must now complete at least six credit hours of experiential learning courses. Overall, the standards are meant to better prepare students for the practice of law while establishing assessment techniques that evaluate whether the students are indeed prepared. Some legal educators have expressed anxiety over how to comply with the new standards, and in response, the ABA has said that schools will be evaluated on their efforts at assessment and not on whether their students meet the school's learning outcomes.
The new ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools ("ABA Standards") require law schools to develop and publish learning outcomes that explicitly state what they want their students to be able to do and know upon completion of the law school curriculum. The ABA Standards also require that law schools develop a plan to assess these learning outcomes through course assessment, programmatic assessment, and institutional assessment." In addition to the ABA, regional accreditors of higher education also require that universities and law schools have an extensive learning outcome and assessment plan. These requirements essentially ask schools to answer two questions:
1. What does your law school want your students to know and be able to do when they graduate?
2. How will you know that your students have obtained these competencies?
These new accreditation standards will create a fundamental shift in legal education, both as it relates to the substance of what is taught in law school and to the way schools develop their curriculum. This Article will detail a process that law schools can use to comply with the ABA Standards that require law schools to develop a comprehensive assessment plan. Because the process will require the faculty to fully engage in curricular planning and development, it is likely going to remove some control individual professors have over their courses, a change that is likely to be met with some resistance. Instead, the process will require a great deal of collaboration among the entire faculty, and it should produce a comprehensive and more effective approach to preparing students for the practice of law. As an example, this Article will detail the steps that The John Marshall Law School took to review and change its professional skills curriculum to incorporate an extensive assessment plan that measured the students' competencies throughout the entire professional skills program.
Niedwiecki, Anthony, "Prepared for Practice? Developing a Comprehensive Assessment Plan for a Law School Professional Skills Program" (2015). Faculty Scholarship. 503.