Looking Back: A Case Study Of Career Interest And Experiential Learning In Law School

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David I.C. Thomson (Denver; Google Scholar) & Stephen Daniels (American Bar Foundation; Google Scholar), Looking Back: A Case Study of Career Interest and Experiential Learning in Law School, 56 Willamette L. Rev. 283 (2020):

As outsiders to the world of business law teaching, we started with an idea animating the Willamette symposium—career relevance. That idea says career interest matters when it comes to experiential learning-especially so for those with a career interest in business law. The idea being that these students are under-served or ill-served when it comes to experiential learning-a kind of business student reverse exceptionalism. Using data from our surveys of Denver Law students we set out to explore the career relevance idea by looking at students’ preferred style of learning and their views on experiential learning, with attention to those envisioning a career in business law. In doing so, we wanted to see what our case study could add to the discussion of experiential learning with regard to those interested in business law. Our starting point was a null hypothesis of no career relevance and we end with a split decision on that simple hypothesis.

In looking at preferred style of learning and views on experiential learning, career interest was not a major factor. This is important because it reflects a persistent, strong and clear preference for a learning style that focuses on experiential learning for students generally-including those interested in a business law career. In looking at students’ views on the importance of experiential learning, we found career interest was not a major factor for 1Ls. It was for 3/4Ls, but the criminal law group was the standout rather than the business law group. Most 3/4Ls looked at experiential learning as important, but the criminal law group saw it as even more so.

Career interest is a factor, expectedly, in the experiential opportunities chosen. For the most part students chose in line with their career interests. Related, it also appears as a factor in whether students think they are adequately prepared to practice law upon graduation. Our survey results are too limited and so are only suggestive on the potential connection. But students overall and in each of the three top career interest groups who take advantage of experiential opportunities, especially a clinic, are more likely to think they are prepared. Students in the business law group, however, are less likely to take advantage of the opportunities compared to those in the criminal law and public interest groups, and business law students are less likely to think they are prepared. Not being ill-disposed to experiential learning, the question is why? It is a question we cannot answer, but for business law students we wonder if it might be an artifact of institutional constraints for the one experiential opportunity with the strongest link to preparation clinics. There are just too few relevant opportunities, and this is the crux of our argument.

Finally, the underlying purpose for our ongoing work has been bringing students into the discussion of experiential learning. It is fitting to give two 3/4Ls in our surveys 67 the last word:

I think that experiential advantage courses, especially the Community Economic Development clinic, were very helpful in preparing me for legal practice.

The Community Economic Development clinic was by far the most valuable experience I had in law school. You should try to find ways to expand your transactional clinical offerings.


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