For the past five years the authors, one a law professor, and the other a federal judge, have joined forces to teach introductory civil procedure to first semester first year students. Our approach is contrary to the traditional theory of legal instruction which holds that students learn first by a rigid diet of Socratic teaching of the fundamentals of legal analysis without any exposure to the real world or even a simulation of it. The central idea behind our experiment is that at the beginning of law school it is essential to provide a contextual introduction to the work of the profession. This article describes our approach in four parts. In Part I we describe our experiment by relaying the alterations we have made to a typical first year civil procedure course in order to make the course more relevant and to use it to introduce students more realistically to the profession. In Part II we discuss the students’ evaluation of the course. These evaluations provide rich data on the students’ perceptions of the experiment immediately after they have taken the course, but prior to final examinations. In Part III we describe how this experiment aligns with the movement to reform legal education by addressing change to the introductory months which are critical in professional training programs, and we describe how our experiment compares to similar changes that are currently being implemented to professional education in other settings, particularly in medical, dentistry, and engineering programs. We conclude the article in Part IV with our analysis of the benefits and potential costs of implementing such change. Based on our experience and study we conclude that this (or a similar variation) should be made a part of the normal first semester law school experience. Our experience demonstrates that change to the first year curriculum to inculcate at the outset a more rounded understanding of the context in which lawyers engage is meaningful, is duplicable and is necessary.
Michael B. Mushlin & Lisa Margaret Smith, The Professor and the Judge: Introducing First Year Students to the Law in Context, J. Legal Educ. (forthcoming 2014).