William Mitchell Law Review

Article Title

Clinical Teaching at William Mitchell College of Law: Values, Pedagogy, and Perspective

Publication Information

30 William Mitchell Law Review 73 (2003-2004)


As part of our celebration of thirty years of clinical education at William Mitchell College of Law, I want to describe three clinical courses that I've had a hand in developing and teaching. When I joined the William Mitchell faculty in 1984, the clinical program was in full bloom, vigorous, and diverse. The courses I discuss in this short essay have grown out of that fertile and energetic educational environment. While the main focus of my essay is to describe these courses, I also take the opportunity to reflect very briefly on the William Mitchell educational philosophy out of which they have grown, and of which they form a part. As I see it, William Mitchell's approach to legal education flows from three main founts. First, there is an embrace of the profession, combined with the critical stance that should characterize higher education. William Mitchell is proud to be a professional school, helping students learn not just theory, but a practice--a complex, nuanced, and messy subset of real life. Second, William Mitchell's education has incorporated a focus on values. In some ways, clinical education can take the lead in values education, but at William Mitchell, we've worked to include attention to values throughout our curriculum. But how one might teach about values is not self-evident, so our approaches to values-education have been diverse, and the courses I describe are part of an institutional ethos that encourages experimentation and initiative in developing approaches to teaching. The third characteristic is the school's history of putting pedagogy on the same plane as scholarship. Teaching and writing are the two ways in which law school professors construct and disseminate knowledge. Our respect for teaching manifests the high regard we have for our students, for the profession they are learning, and for the clients they will eventually represent. Thinking about how to structure teaching to support our educational goals regarding the profession and values has led me to think a lot about the idea of perspective. Typical law school teaching shines a spotlight on a particular, analytically distinct area of legal doctrine or theory--for example, contracts or torts. This “content” is taught by studying pieces of judges' (and lawyers') work--often appellate opinions. Much clinical education--including the courses I am about to describe-- changes this typical pedagogical structure in two ways. First, it reverses foreground and background, so that the focus is now on what lawyers do rather than what law is. Second, clinical education shifts from the analytical stance to an approach that is integrative, which helps students connect the analytically separate pieces of their legal education together into a meaningful whole. As the reader will see, all three of the courses discussed below were developed collaboratively, are taught collaboratively, and use collaboration as a tool for learning. This, too, is a conscious choice about pedagogy, about values, and about lawyering. It represents an application of pedagogical knowledge about adult learning and models a way of approaching the practice of law and relationships with clients.