Skip to main content

"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.

Popular posts from this blog

Letter to A First-Time (Legal Research) Instructor

Dear Friend,

Seven years ago this week, I was prepping madly to teach my first legal research class.  Three months earlier, I'd been a law student myself.  To say that I was nervous is an understatement; mildly terrified was probably a more apt description.  The truth is I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I wanted to teach legal research differently than I had been taught legal research, where at best it was viewed as a skill less important than everything else being taught at law school and at worst an afterthought, a skill that students should be able to do with very little training. 

There are many points I wish I knew then that I know now and that's what I want to share with you today. 


First and foremost, students will forgive many imperfections in the classroom if they know you care about their learning.  At the start of every semester, I re-read Kent Syverud's "Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers,"…

The Experiential Simulation Course Checklist, Part 1

When developing courses to meet the requirements for experiential simulation courses, there are three ABA standards that come into play: Standard 303(a)(3), Standard 302, and Standard 304.

When combined, there are eight bullet points that one must meet to comply with the standards for experiential simulation courses**:
"Primarily experiential in nature" (Standard 303(a)(3)):  To meet this bullet point, an ABA Guidance Memo provides additional help. It notes that the "primarily" suggests "more than simply inserting an experiential component into an existing class." Furthermore, the "primarily" "indicates the main purpose of something." It is clear that the experiential nature of the course should be central to the course's design and should be prevalent across the entire length of the course. In fact, the ABA notes that the "experiential nature of the course should . . . be the organizing principle of the course, and the substan…

Motivation in the Legal Research Classroom

Motivating students in the legal research classroom can be a challenge. As we know, there are many false narratives surrounding students' conceptions of legal research's importance, interest level, and ease, all of which can result in a decrease in students' motivation to engage in this subject matter.

There are two types of motivation--intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation occurs when students are motivated by an outside reward or punishment;[1] in instruction, this is often the grades students will get on research assignments or the participation points they might receive for actively engaging with in-class exercises.  Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, occurs when students are interested in the topic for its own sake.[2]

Due to legal research's false narratives, students entering our classrooms tend to be drive primarily by extrinsic motivation.  The problem is, as Julie Dirksen aptly notes in her excellent book Design for How People Learn, "intri…

Helping with Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 2: Prioritizing Transparency

One factor leading to decreased focus and motivation in online classes is the uncertainty many students feel in the virtual environment.  This uncertainty can arise from students never having taken an online class before, from having distractions at home that they don't have in their in-person classes, or from using technology with which they're not familiar.  This uncertainty can lead to students disengaging with the class, as they feel disconnected from the content, their instructor, and their classmates.

To support students undergoing this uncertainty and help them stay engaged, provide as much clarity as possible.  Being clear about expectations will help students gain some balance in an uncomfortable situation.  There are a number of ways we can help students minimize their discomfort--from making sure online class modules are standardized in their format within the learning management system to designing a syllabus with well-structured, clear course requirements.  One me…

Helping with Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 4: Building An Online Teaching Presence

I've written before about how important it is to show students you care about their learning and about them as humans, in part summarizing Kent Syverud's excellent piece, "Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers. It is harder to show students that you care about them in a remote environment than when you see them in a physical classroom every day, where you can smile at them, easily ask them how they're doing as they enter the room or when you run into them in the classroom, or notice through their body language if they are having a hard time and reach out. But we know that showing we care matters; our students try harder and engage more when they feel like their learning matters to their instructor. It takes more intention to show you care about students in the online classroom, but it's imperative that we find ways to show we do.

So what are some ways that we can show students we care in the remote learning environment?
The first is to build a te…