Ahead of the Curve: Turning Law Students into Lawyers
assessment, professional-identity, minimum-competence
In recent years, law schools have been the subject of great scrutiny—by media, by the profession, by law students, and even by legal educators within the schools—about the quality of legal education and training they offer students who will graduate to become tomorrow’s lawyers. There may be disagreement about the severity of the problem and the solutions to the problem, but there can hardly be disagreement that the increasing focus on the quality of legal education is creating more opportunities than ever for innovation in law schools and for building partnerships with the profession to develop improved models of legal education.
When New Hampshire’s law school teamed up with the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the New Hampshire Board of Bar Examiners over a decade ago, a unique program was born. The Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program at the University of New Hampshire provides a combination of training and assessment over a two-year period that serves as a variant to the two-day bar examination—simply stated, students who participate in the program are evaluated for bar admission based on their performance over a two-year period and do not sit for the traditional bar examination.
But, the success of the program lies not in its relationship to the bar exam. Rather, the success of the program lies in the fact that, on some measures, the students are actually better prepared for the practice of law. The combination of formative and reflective assessment administered in a practice-based context appears to produce better outcomes for students, which ultimately translates to better prepared lawyers.
The two-year program, beginning in the second year of law school, works within a proscribed curriculum that immerses students in experience-based learning settings, and both provides and demands formative, reflective, and summative assessment. The ultimate assessment comes, of course, at the end of the program when student participants are reviewed for bar admission based on their performance over the course of two years. From the outside, the program seems to have all the right elements for success, but is it actually doing a better job of preparing lawyers for practice and clients? To find out, IAALS worked with an evaluation consulting firm to conduct quantitative and qualitative analysis of existing research to evaluate outcomes of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program.
Gerkman, A., & Harman, E. (2015). Ahead of the curve: Turning law students into lawyers. Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.