Answering the Call: Flipping the Classroom to Prepare Practice-Ready Attorneys

Author:Alex Berrio Matamoros
Position::Associate Law Library Professor and Emerging Technologies Librarian, City University of New York School of Law. I am grateful to my colleagues, Sue Bryant and Sarah Lamdan for their extensive comments and feedback, along with the many other CUNY School of Law faculty who commented on various drafts, and to my research assistant Logan Gerrity (C...
Pages:113-151
SUMMARY

The increasing emphasis on legal skills sheds light on an interesting paradox within legal education; in legal skills courses—those that best lend themselves to active learning experiences—instructors frequently fill valuable classroom time with passive lectures to convey the related theory and best practices. Recently, several legal skills instructors have adopted a flipped classroom model to... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT
ANSWERING THE CALL: FLIPPING THE CLASSROOM
TO PREPARE PRACTICE-READY ATTORNEYS
ALEX BERRIO MATAMOROS *
I. ABSTRACT
In the rough and changing landscape of the legal job market, legal
employers have called on law schools to prepare “practice ready”
attorneys—newly minted members of the bar with better honed practical
skills than the first year lawyers of the past.1 The increasing emphasis on
legal skills sheds light on an interesting paradox within legal education; in
legal skills coursesthose that best lend themselves to active learning
experiencesinstructors frequently fill valuable classroom time with
passive lectures to convey the related theory and best practices. Recently,
several legal skills instructors have adopted a flipped classroom model to
remedy this paradox by using commonplace technology to make concise
lecture videos available online for students to view on their own time,
creating additional classroom time for active skills development under the
supervision of an experienced instructor.2
This Article presents an assessment of the literature and limited
empirical studies on the effectiveness of using a flipped classroom model
in higher education courses. After discussing the pedagogical and learning
benefits of flipped classrooms, it then advocates for at least the partial
implementation of a flipped classroom model in legal skills courses to
create more opportunities for active learning with the expectation of
similar increases in student performance that have appeared in other areas
of higher education.
Copyright © 2015, Alex Berrio Matamoros.
* Associate Law Library Professor and Emerging Technologies Librarian, City
University of New York School of Law. I am grateful to my colleagues, Sue Bryant and
Sarah Lamdan for their extensive comments and feedback, along with the many other
CUNY School of Law faculty who commented on various drafts, and to my research
assistant Logan Gerrity (CUNY School of Law, Class of 2015) for his in-depth research
and thorough editing assistance.
1 Cf. Martha Neil, NY State Bar Urges ABA to Encourage Law Schools to Focus on
Educating ‘Practice Ready’ Attorneys, A.B.A. J. (Aug. 5, 2011, 7:59 AM),
http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/new_york_state_bar_urges_aba_to_strengthen_la
w_school_focus/ (indicating a state bar association is pushing law school to improve in this
regard).
2 See discussion infra Part III.A.
114 CAPITAL UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW [43:113
II. INTRODUCTION
Rightsizing.”3New normal.”4Market correction.5Practice
ready.6 Buzzwords abound in news stories about the changing landscapes
of the legal profession, its job market, and legal education since the
economic downturn in 2008; few buzzwords are more popular than “new
normal” and “practice ready.”7 While the fuzziness of the “new normal” is
beginning to sharpen, there has never been any ambiguity in the call for
law schools to produce more practice-ready attorneys. Law firms and
other legal employers no longer want to spend the time and money to teach
new lawyers the fundamental skills of law practice.8 Instead, they are
calling on law schools to place a greater emphasis on teaching law students
how to be lawyers, not just how to think like lawyers.9 Law schools are
3 Edwin B. Reeser, Law Firms in the Great Recession: Looking for Change in all the
Wrong Places, A.B.A. J. (Sept. 5, 2013, 8:19 AM), http://www.abajournal.com/legalrebels/
article/law_firms_in_the_great_recession_looking_for_change_in_all_the_wrong_places/;
Janet L. Conley, ‘Intentional Rightsizing’ in ’09 Pays Off for Firm in 2010, N.Y. L.J (Feb.
28, 2011), http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/PubArticleNY.jsp?id=1202485778945;
Molly McDonough, Economy Better, But More Partner Layoffs to Come, Survey Says,
A.B.A. J. (June 24, 2009, 4:20 AM), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/economy_
better_but_more_partner_layoffs_to_come_survey_says/.
4 Victor Fleischer, The Shift Toward Law School Specialization, N.Y. TIMES (Oct. 25,
2012, 12:22 PM), http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/the-shift-toward-law-school-
specialization/.
5 Bill Henderson, The Competition is for Full-Time, Professional Law-Related Jobs,
Part I, LAW PROFESSORS BLOG NETWORK (June 28, 2013),
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/ legalwhiteboard/2013/06/the-competition-is-full-time-
professional-law-related-jobs.html; Law School Deans Discuss the Crisis and
Transformation in Legal Education, NIAGARA FOUND. FALLS (Nov. 4, 2013),
http://niagarafoundationfalls.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/ legal-education/.
6 Neil, supra note 1; Debra Cassens Weiss, How Law Schools Can Produce ‘Practice
Ready’ Grads: Operate Their Own Law Firms, A.B.A. J. (Aug. 18, 2011, 1:11 AM),
http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how_law_schools_can_produce_practice_ready_gr
ads_operate_their_own_law_firm/.
7 See, e.g., Fleischer, supra note 4; Neil, supra note 1.
8 See David Segal, What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering, N.Y. TIMES,
Nov. 20, 2011, at A22. See also Jennifer Smith, Identifying the Problems with Law
Schools, WALL ST. J. L. BLOG (Sept. 20, 2013, 2:00 AM),
http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2013/09/20/aba-task-force-weighs-in-on-legal-education-crisis/.
9 R. Michael Cassidy, Beyond Practical Skills: Nine Steps for Improving Legal
Education Now, 53 B.C. L. REV. 1515, 151617 (2012). See also Fleischer, supra note 4;
Segal, supra note 8, at A2.
2015] ANSWERING THE CALL 115
answering the call, and across the nation schools are expanding their
offering of legal skills courses and beginning to place greater emphasis on
skills development.10
Overhauling a school’s curriculum to introduce intensive small group
instruction on writing, research, and lawyering skills,11 or requiring
participation in a clinic12—both curricular “innovations” some schools
have practiced for decades13indicates that not only are law schools
giving students more options to prepare for practice by voluntarily taking
elective skills courses, but also many law faculties are realizing that skills
instruction must be more fully embedded in the law school experience.
In all the discussion of preparing practice-ready graduates, little
mention has been made of the ways in which these legal skills courses are
being taught. Any U.S. lawyer can tell you that legal writing and research
instruction usually involves in-class lectures and out-of-class writing or
research assignments.14 Similarly, other lawyering skills courses may
contain lengthy lectures, although some part of the class time is saved for
role-playing or participatory exercises.15 However, ask a law student how
they would like these courses to operate and you will likely hear that,
ideally, the expert instructors would spend as much time as possible giving
them personal attention or small-group coaching in order to guide them
through their skills development. Such guidance is similar to the
10 See Fleischer, supra note 4.
11 See Brian Kelley, Law School Launches New Program, WM. & MARY L. SCH. (Jan. 9,
2013), http://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2013/law-school-launches-new-program123.php
(announcing William & Mary Law School’s new Legal Practice Program, designed to
introduce students to lawyering skills in their first and second years).
12 See A Cornerstone of the Curriculum, U.C. IRVINE SCH. L., http://www.law.uci.edu/
academics/real-life-learning/clinics/ (last visited Oct. 3, 2014) (describing the clinical
program at U.C. Irvine School of Law and the requirement that students complete at least
one semester of clinical education).
13 See Curriculum & Course Descriptions, CITY U. N.Y. SCH. L.,
http://www.law.cuny.edu/academics/courses/curriculum.html (last visited Oct. 3, 2014)
(describing CUNY School of Law’s lawyering skills program and clinical requirement that
has been in place since the school’s founding in 1983). See also Barbara L. Bezdek, T he
CUNY Law Program: Integration of Doctrine, Practice, & Theory in the Preparation of
Lawyers, 9 J. OF PROF. LEGAL EDUC. 59, 60, 63, 6668 (discussing the early clinic and
conenctration programs).
14 See discussion infra Par t III.C.
15 See, e.g., The Litigation Experience, ARIZ. ST. C. L., https://www.law.asu.edu/
programs/OtherPrograms/TrialAdvocacyProgram/TheLitigationExperience.aspx
(last visited Oct. 3, 2014).

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