With the widespread criticism of legal education and the proposed changes to the American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation standards, law schools are looking for ways that they can better teach students to be lawyers. In fact, law schools may be facing a perfect storm for significant changes in legal education with the recent release of two high-profile reports criticizing legal education, the major restructuring of law firms and practice because of the weakening economy, and the push to change the ABA's accreditation standards.
These events highlight the need to prepare law students to be practice-ready and to help make them better prepared for lifelong learning, something that goes to the core of what it means to be a lawyer. The problem, however, is that law schools generally fail to train students to be expert learners even though lawyers will be constantly learning while practicing law. In light of law schools' general failure to teach students to be expert learners, this article discusses how to better prepare students for the practice of law through a more effective way of using formative assessment in lawyering skills courses and clinics. For purposes of this article, “doctrinal courses” are those that focus on teaching the substance of an area of the law, even though some skills may be taught. Examples of doctrinal courses include contracts, torts, civil procedure, property, and constitutional law. “Skills courses,” however, are those that focus on teaching some particular lawyering skill. Examples of skills courses include legal research and writing, negotiation, contract drafting, clinics, and externships.
Specifically, this article focuses on ways that professors can use the formative assessment process to improve the metacognitive skills of law students so they are more successful at transferring their learning to the new and novel situations they will encounter in the practice of law. Essentially, the goal of formative assessment should be to move legal education away from a focus on an end product-a memorandum, motion, negotiation, oral argument, etc.-to the underlying process of developing these products.
Part II of this article focuses on the need to prepare law students to be expert learners because they will be constant learners in the practice of law. Part III details the concept of metacognition and its role in preparing students to be self- regulated learners. It discusses the components of metacognition, its role in law school, and the current push to include better metacognitive training in law school. Part IV details how formative assessment can be better utilized in improving the metacognitive skills of students. Specifically, it explains the best practices of formative assessment and how professors can adjust their feedback from a focus on assessing a product to assessing the process of learning. Part V explains how to use self-assessment surveys and portfolios to enhance the formative assessment process and help students become better self-regulated learners.
Anthony Niedwiecki, Teaching for Lifelong Learning: Improving the Metacognitive Skills of Law Students through More Effective Formative Assessment Techniques, 40 Cap. U. L. Rev. 149 (2012).