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2011 Conference on the Future of the Law School Curriculum
Date: June 11 16, 2011
Location: Sheraton Seattle Hotel
Every so often, there is a conference that leaves its mark on legal education for years to come. What sets these conferences apart is that they address a critical topic at a critical time. We are at a pivotal moment in the history of legal education. Forces from outside and inside the academy have generated a powerful impetus for legal educators to reconsider the law school curriculum. Outside the academy, changes in the legal profession driven by the economy, technology, and the law, are unsettling long-held views about the types of intellectual tools and skills our graduates require. We can no longer comfortably assume that students will receive apprenticeships in practice or that their professional endeavors will be confined to a single legal system and culture. Moreover, reformist initiatives fashioned outside the academy, such as the Carnegie Report, are calling on law schools to improve the way they prepare students for professional roles, offering their own distinctive vision of the law school curriculum and pedagogy. Simultaneously, new developments within the academy are generating momentum for curricular change as well. These developments include advances in learning theory, growth of experiential learning opportunities, new understandings of how the law operates, cost considerations associated with increased tuition, and a proliferation of faculty with advanced degrees in other fields relating to law. Among the ranks of both established law schools and recently-founded institutions can be found instances of significant innovation in response to these forces.
As legal educators, our responsibility is to assess the need for change in light of core values of legal education, and to fashion a worthy law school curriculum. This Conference will provide attendees with knowledge and ideas that can inform curricular initiatives at their own schools. Day One will focus on challenges confronting legal education from without and within, drawing on social scientists and leaders in the legal profession as well as knowledgeable law faculty and university administrators. Days Two and Three, held jointly with the Clinical Conference, will concentrate first on core values, and then on particular responses to the forces pressing for curricular change, such as greater incorporation of experiential and multi-disciplinary learning and a more “globalized” curriculum. Surveys of law school practices as well as exemplary law school programs and experiences will be included in these sessions. Challenges of achieving institutional change given the dynamics of law school governance and decision-making will also be addressed, both by experts in organizational behavior and thoughtful veterans of the process.
Throughout the three days, a mix of presentations and small group discussions will be livened by the ongoing role-play of a law school curriculum committee, which will be consulting regularly with its “faculty,” consisting of the Conference participants. This “faux” curriculum committee will be assessing the ideas put forward at the Conference, modeling faculty decision-making processes, and ultimately presenting a curriculum proposal for the attendees to consider in an interactive process. Participants will leave the Conference with concrete ideas and strategies for action at their own institutions.