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"Experiential in Nature" v. "Classroom Instructional Component": Finding a Balance

In Part I of this post series, I broke down the requirements of the experiential simulations under Standards 303(a)(3) and 304.

The majority of the bullet points in the checklist (multiple opportunities for performance, feedback from a faculty member, opportunities for self-evaluation, etc.) can be fairly easily met, especially in research courses, where frequent opportunities to practice various skills and getting feedback from the instructor are common features. The more challenging aspect of meeting these requirements comes in balancing the "primarily experiential in nature" requirement with the "classroom instruction component."

Since ABA has described the "primarily" in "primarily experiential in nature" to "indicate the main purpose of something," this suggests that the practice of skills should be a major component of the course. This means that too much lecture leans away from the class being experiential in nature. After all, the ABA has very clearly stated that just inserting an experiential component into an existing class would not meet the experiential requirement. 

Despite this, the classroom instructional component seems to require some degree of lecture. This component must be rigorous enough to allow for the "integration of doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics" and to help students develop "the concepts underlying the professional skills" being taught. To be clear: the ABA does not specifically require lecture, but it would be considerably difficult to integrate doctrine and theory into skills without some lecture component. But how much lecture is needed for the rigorous development of concepts the ABA is talking about? The ABA gives no clear indication of the balance that needs to be met between lecture and practice of skills.

However, since the ABA also notes that the "experiential nature" of the class ought to be the "organizing principle of the class" and that the "substantive law or doctrinal material . . . should be incidental to it," it seems likely that we, as instructors, should design our curriculum so that the practice of skills comprises the majority of both individual class time as well as the course as a whole of over the length of the entire semester. As such, while courses should include a lecture component focusing on how skills and theory relate, more in-class time and out-of-class time should be spent on practicing lawyering skills than reading or lectures. Practice of skills also should not be limited to homework assignments; they should be a key feature of in-class time. [This also helps with meeting the direct supervision of students by a faculty member requirement, too].

By finding the correct balance between practice of skills and lecture, we are able to impart to our students how the skills they are learning relate to the doctrinal law they are learning, while focusing on the day-to-day work they will do as attorneys. With their future employers more and more concerned with students' ability to "act" like lawyers from day one, students' ability to perform these critical lawyering skills is particularly important.

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