Proposing A Continuum of Legal Education and Collaboration Beyond Three Years

By: Gregory Bordelon, Executive Director of the Louisiana Committee on Bar Admissions

Law school may be three years, but preparing for life as a lawyer takes much longer – an educational journey that spans close to twenty, if we’re speaking only about formal schooling.  The intricate web of life events that influences a person’s decision to become a lawyer cannot be easily distilled through the often intense period of adapting to the first year of law school. It is not a “one size fits all” proposition.  This, in part, is why people react differently to the 1L year, some with intellectual exhilaration, some with confusion, and others with anxiety and doubt. I refer to studying legal education before and after law school as continuum studies – the study of how events before and after law school impact lawyering.

While thorough studies have been (and are continuing to be) done about how to make the profession better after law school, it is really the excitement surrounding what happens before law school1 that can guide the direction of those pivotal three years.  Beyond this two-dimensional horizontal observation exist a host of overlaying spheres influencing the decision to attend law school – social factors, ideological predispositions, personal and professional reasons, and the list goes on.

Moreover, these spheres inform one another in interconnected ways.  In my time as a faculty member at a mid-sized undergraduate liberal arts institution, I chose to focus my pedagogical scholarship on the legal education continuum – how educational events before law school shape and model the law student.  Even within this area, one can drill down into how components of formal education (e.g., curriculum, major, advising, academic support, extracurricular activities, etc.) influence law school performance.  The beauty of these types of studies is that they lend themselves quite readily to many varieties of academic research: doctrinal, qualitative, and quantitative.  I personally chose to examine how political science curriculum learning outcomes align with those of law schools.2

Yes, there are a plethora of opportunities for academics to research within continuum studies, but also practical efforts by several stake-holding groups can get to what the future of legal education may hold. These efforts need not be laser-focused on law school methods of the status quo.  I wouldn’t imagine that presenting a Kingfield exercise to a group of second-graders would go over well.  Rather stake-holders (or facilitators) should engage with students and one another energetically to get students excited about law, government, and democracy.  Indeed, I always thought it curious how there is a push for STEM education while little is written about the importance of civic and social studies education.  It would be a rather interesting idea to see blossom if we invested resources in early childhood social studies education with conscious, deliberate, and applied educational focus on areas like the branches of government, how a bill becomes a law, and the concept of federalism.  Perhaps it would help not only with a better law school experience but also would yield a more informed democratic (lower case D) citizenry.

Below is a graphic showing those people who could hold influence over a student’s decision to pursue law as a profession – educational facilitators of a student’s path to becoming a lawyer.  This is only my suggestion from a formal schooling perspective; there are many others who could influence students in various ways.  What I think is important as we continue to grapple with legal education reform is to not silo off these educational experiences but rather open up a dialogue between and among diverse facilitators.

Put differently, professors need not be islands unto themselves.  Instead, think of the continuum of legal education as an archipelago bridged by facilitators of student interest in law.  Piquing students’ intellectual curiosity about our democratic form of government, reminding them of the societal importance of lawyers, and guiding them into formal law school education with a sense of readiness to come out better on the other side are all goals to which all educators should aspire. Traditional law schools need not do it alone but rather should act as a critical “big island” in the continuum.

In future posts, I hope to continue to share my ideas of specific ways that facilitators before law school can reform how we think of traditional legal studies.  I also encourage all interested colleagues to contribute to this important discussion. For example, how does a mock trial high school elective translate to participants’ career aspirations?  What is the impact of law and government Career Day activities at the elementary school level?  Ideas – big or small – can lead to better prepared students who will more easily thrive in the rigorous law school environment.


[1] The Association of American Law Schools has commissioned a comprehensive study entitled, Before the JD to
look at factors influencing a person’s decision to attend law school.
https://www.aals.org/about/publications/newsletters/aals-news- fall-2016/jeff- allum-before- the-jd/ (Date Visited:
November 7, 2017).

[2] Bordelon, Gregory R, P.S. Majors to J.D. Jobs – How Can We Help You?: Assessing the Future of the Political
Science Curriculum Vis-a- Vis the Future of Legal Education Through an Interdisciplinary Continuum. APSA 2013
Teaching and Learning Conference Paper. Available at
SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2213061 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2213061 (Date Visited: November 7,
2017).

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