Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2022


Calls for reform of legal education are long-standing and have been renewed with vigor and an increasing demand for “practice-ready” lawyers. As part of these reforms, changes to the American Bar Association Standards have been made that now require law schools to provide experiential learning opportunities, to define specific objectives, and to show that students are making progress toward those objectives. A rapidly developing area of study regarding professional identity formation stresses the importance of supporting and guiding students through experiential learning throughout the course of law school. Additionally, as part of its accreditation process, the ABA will now evaluate whether law schools are effective in helping students progress toward the school’s defined learning objectives.

As law faculty and former associate deans of the University of New Mexico School of Law (UNMSOL) clinical law programs, we stood ready to answer the call for reform to better prepare students for the actual practice of law. We have long observed that students entering our mandatory, six-credit clinical law program are often not fully prepared for immersion in live-client representation. Because of our law school’s strong history of support for its clinical law program and its unitary tenure track in which faculty teach both in the clinic as well as “podium courses” throughout the curriculum, we prepared to play an integral part in helping the faculty review our law school’s programs of legal education. Our goal was to engage in curricular redesign that would help our students be more effectively prepared for our clinical law programs, and later, their law practices.

Over the years we made many attempts to enhance our students’ practice readiness. We spoke directly with our students. We shared ideas with each other. We brought legal writing and legal research professors into our clinic classroom and into discussions. Surprisingly, these efforts did not appear to be effective in improving the students’ ability to connect and transfer their prior law school learning to the clinical setting.

As we continued to witness the students struggle on a day-to-day and semester-to-semester basis, the call to action from within and from without the academy grew more pronounced. A front-page article in The Wall Street Journal, the ABA standards requiring law schools to provide more focus on the role and obligations of attorneys, the Carnegie Report, and other critiques of the legal academy all questioned the entrenched legal education methodologies that had been used for generations.

So, we broadened our efforts, seeking insights from teachers at other law schools and teachers in other disciplines. We found that other disciplines and fields of study had developed conceptual frameworks and tools to help build bridges across curricula and help students transfer their foundational theoretical knowledge from the classroom to use in a clinical framework. These tools include backward design, transfer of learning, and curriculum mapping. These tools have assisted us in our efforts at every level, from planning each class that we teach, within a course, to the design of each course itself to helping students chart their path across the entirety of their law school experience.

This article describes the tools we used in redesigning parts of our own curriculum to promote our students’ practice readiness. It also describes our initial attempts to incorporate these tools into our planning of individual classes, and entire new and aspirational courses, to better prepare students for their live-client experiences in our mandatory clinical programs. We conclude with our thoughts about how using these tools has helped our teaching and, hopefully, our effectiveness in preparing our students to rise and meet the legal challenges facing our community.

Publication Title

Journal of Legal Education





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