Thursday, January 14, 2016
Welcome to the Law School of the Future....
It is the first day of law school, and you are excited. You have completed your online preparatory work, and you think you are ready to begin this journey. You spend the morning processing through the expected administrative details, take the student oath of professional conduct and now you are going to your learning space. You call it yours because you have been told by student services that your working group will collectively use this space for all of your course work this year. Your section has 32 students in it, and you’ve been assigned to one of the three professors you designated based upon your projected career path as identified by the extensive conversations, interviews, and surveys conducted with students services. You have always dreamed about being a plaintiff lawyer, and you cannot wait to get started. You’ve heard, but you think it is just a rumor, that you may get your first case assignment today. There is no way you could possibly start law school with a client, even in a teaching environment. But who knows?
When you get into your classroom you take a look around. There appear to be multiple collaborative work spaces, arranged in groupings of 8 students. The furniture is modular, and looks like it can be arranged in a variety of ways. For now there are four specific areas each with eight chairs around a series of tables that have been put together to create a space where each small group can see everyone else in the group. You notice that each set of tables seems to have a bank of displays on the wall near its location. You’ve heard about this, and apparently your school issued tablets will stream video, documents and screen shots directly to the displays - you look closer and you notice that your name is underneath one of the monitors and it is also built into the display of your smart desk, glowing just strongly enough that you can read it and take your seat.
While waiting for your professor to arrive you pull up your personal database of online lectures covering the substantive law you are expected to develop competency in by the end of this semester. Your school believes in adult immersion training, and you know you will need these lectures to help you deal with the simulated and real world problems you will work on with your classmates and professor during this module. You are already thinking about the dreaded 1st year competency exam that you will have to take, but you aren’t really worried because they told you in student services that your school teaches the black letter law in a transparent fashion so that you can move on to the higher level learning functions associated with synthesis, application, and development of the law.
While you are waiting for the professor you pull up your personalized online lecture series to check them out. You go through the names of the professors in your database and realize that some of your onsite professors have contributed to this resource, and you also recognize the name of several nationally recognized experts in various areas of the law. It looks like your educational experience will include input from the best and brightest!
You have been told that when the lectures are relevant they will go from a greyed out appearance to a clear picture - indicating that you should attend these lectures virtually during your own scheduled time. You also know you will have the ability to post questions concerning the materials, and that your school has provided you with a template of expected ways in which this substantive law is relevant to your future interests, to include admittance to the bar. You’ve also been told you won’t be able to conduct the assigned legal tasks without understanding and applying these subjects.
You see the section on understanding the substantive law and applying it in a testing modality too. You’ve been told about this, and recognize it as one of the resources your school uses to maximize your potential. The way you understand it, this approach almost guarantees, knock on wood, passing the bar the first time through, and if you score high enough your state bar has waived additional testing on the core subjects when you sit for the bar. Apparently it is all tied in to a school database that tracks your substantive competency and ensures that you understand the subject. Your lessons will not advance until you complete the tasks successfully - it feels a lot like playing a game in an online multiverse, or so you’ve been told.
You notice that the introduction to tort law is open and available, as well as the fundamentals of civil procedure. There is also a series on traumatic injuries and the psychological damage that may result. There are even some lectures about force, mass and acceleration. Your classmates trickle in and you close out the database, making a note to review the materials during your scheduled study time later that day.
You and your classmates visit for few minutes and then the professor walks in. Roll is taken by scanning your thumbprint with your tablet. Once the roll is done the professor begins. The lights darken, and a recording of a tangled mass of metal appears on all of the display screens, followed by a 15 minute day in the life presentation of a quadriplegic man you soon learn is your client - welcome to law school.
This “day in the life” of a future law student serves as an excellent starting point to discuss how future law school experiences might be organized. It represents several ideas that are coming quickly due to economic pressure, changing accreditation standards, and market forces. They include:
1. Replacement of traditional substantive law lectures, and the professors who deliver them using the socratic method, with online resources, quizzes, and problems. The future focus will be on application and synthesis based upon modules or blocks of instruction designed to develop identified competencies.
2. Embedding technology and using it to to transform every moment of the educational experience.
3. The rise of a new class of professors who approach their craft holistically, teaching the law through application, problem solving, mentoring, and developing professional identity. It will be as much a coaching and supervisory experience as an educational one. Many of the concepts for adult education in use in industry, the military, and the business world will finally be applied across the board in law school.
4. The development of deeper personal relationships between professors and students early in the law school experience, with a modular design focused on blocks of instruction and small course work from the very beginning. The use of online lectures will allow for this approach, and transform the educational experience in ways we do not yet fully understand.
5. The ability for students to learn the law contextually from the very beginning.
Now I realize that this example is scary to most professors, and that it forecasts tectonic upheaval in our profession. I would suggest respectfully that it is actually a rather tame look into the future, and that this is coming, either painfully, or intelligently, depending upon how we, the academics responsible for our current system, respond to challenges we now face.
Let the discussion begin!
Posted by Charlie Rose at 1:01 AM