UW Law School to Host Conference on Reforming Legal Education

The University of Wisconsin Law School will bring leading scholars to campus October 22-23, 2010 to discuss reforming legal education.  Keynote guest speakers include Professor David Wilkins (Harvard), Dean Bryant Garth and Vice Dean Austen Parrish (Southwestern), Dean Lauren Robel and Professor Bill Henderson (Indiana), Dean Martin Katz (Denver) as well as Ann Colby and William Sullivan of the Carnegie Foundation, and Robert Nelson, Director of the American Bar Foundation.  Other distinguished speakers will include members of the Wisconsin faculty, and faculty from Georgetown, American, and Northwestern University Law Schools.

According to program chair Professor Elizabeth Mertz, the conference on Legal Education Reform after Carnegie: Bringing Law-in-Action into the Law School Classroom takes its impetus from a current wave of interest in reforming legal education.  Recent publication of both the Carnegie Report and a statement of Best Practices for Legal Education have drawn attention to innovative pedagogical efforts in law schools across the country:

"We hope to advance the national conversation in this conference, focusing in particular on how the law works in action, and on how a law-in-action perspective can inform our teaching. This is a unique moment in the history of the legal academy, when interest in pedagogical reform is arising simultaneously with renewed attention to social science. At the same time, many law teachers are experimenting with new teaching methods designed to bring law to life in the classroom. Today there is the potential for a kind of synergy not seen since the rise of legal realism and the push for clinical education in law schools."

Carnegie Report authors join law school deans and law professors at a two-day conference in Madison, home of the law-in-action approach with a longstanding tradition of combining social science and law. But the conference also highlights advances at other law schools such as Indiana, Harvard, and Southwestern, which have taken exciting steps to integrate knowledge of the real world into their curricula.  And many faculty from many other law schools will be contributing their insights, including from American University’s Washington College of Law, Denver, Georgetown, Marquette, John Marshall, University of Maryland, Northwestern, Texas Southern’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Villanova, the University of Washington, William Mitchell, and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Wisconsin professors presenting at the conference will include Lisa Alexander, Tonya Brito, Sarah Davis, Howard Erlanger, Meg Gaines, Aviva Kaiser, John Kidwell, Marsha Mansfield, Stewart Macaulay, Elizabeth Mertz, Mary Ray, and Ursula Weigold, along with others who will be participating.

Southwestern’s Dean Bryant Garth comments, “The conference will add momentum to the current movement and at the same time bring an important and fresh perspective.” 

Anne Colby of the Carnegie Foundations adds, “In the past several years, the field of legal education has moved forward boldly with creative new ways to teach for the integration of legal thinking, practice, and the profession's fundamental purposes. Law-in-action is being brought into the law school classroom, and this conference will focus national attention on the best of that work.  I expect the result will be even greater energy and momentum for change in American legal education. This reform movement can also serve as a model and inspiration for changes needed in other fields, and I hope it will.”

As Professor Ann Shalleck from American University’s Washington College of Law notes that “the dynamics of change that are spreading throughout legal education have the potential to remake the curriculum of legal education so that students understand the world of law as far more than abstract propositions – but as the working of social and political institutions, the interactions of lawyers with their clients, the experience of individuals and communities as they encounter law as embedded in the world, and the struggles of individual lawyers to fulfill their responsibilities to strengthen democracy and seek justice.”  She adds that “this conference provides an important opportunity to move forward these developments that are critical to the transformation of legal education making it a site for grappling with the challenges of an uncertain world.”

Stanford law professor Lawrence Marshall, a convenor of the first Carnegie Conference, applauds this effort, saying that “all who are committed to continued improvement of how we educate lawyers should welcome this important effort to move forward the national project of legal educational reform. This is an extraordinary gathering of leading thinkers in the field with the potential to create strong momentum for meaningful change."

Further information about the conference is available at: http://www.law.wisc.edu/ils/2010legaleducationconf/homepage.html


Submitted by Kara Lea Ganter on October 18, 2010

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