Clinical Programs / Simulation

Law school practice simulations may be designed to teach factual information (principles of law and legal ethics), or to train students in behavior (lawyering skills), or to do a combination of both. Students adopt the role of lawyers and work through part of an invented factual circumstance that has legal ramifications. In such simulations students engage in the behavior and use the skill that a lawyer would employ. The students involved are then provided constructive criticism by the professor as a way of improving their performances. Simulated litigation practice has been praised as the most effective way of arousing student interest, concern and a feeling of responsibility about a legal problem inside a classroom.

Clinical training programs in law schools are a response to what were felt to be serious gaps in legal education, resulting from the use of classroom methods with intensive emphasis on appellate decisions. Generally, the method of instruction is a one on one mentoring relationship between the professor/lawyer and the student. The instructional material is the legal circumstance of a real client. Proponents say that clinical programs offer law students an opportunity to gain experience in the practice of law and to acquire skills well beyond those taught in conventional classes. Clinical programs teach legal skills such as fact investigation, planning, drafting, research, trial strategy and tactics, advocacy; human relations skills including interviewing, counseling, negotiating, communicating and emotional understanding in general; ethical and social responsibilities of the profession; and knowledge of current substantive law.

Law students in a real- client legal clinic ideally may have what is their best opportunity to risk mistakes and learn from an informed educator/lawyer and an informed group of peers just how well they are performing in their neophyte profession. Students are exposed to real clients and shoulder much of the responsibility for their legal fate. The clinical student has the opportunity for a guided exposure to a rich mix of the lawyers’ world where she can see, in context, the implementation of the rules and theory that she learned in the classroom.

Clinical legal education, if properly and closely supervised, is expensive. Even if done correctly, the clinical experience may be an exhausting and often frustrating experience for professors and students alike because the flow of a case sometimes does not fit naturally into a normal academic time sequence. Moreover, an objective evaluation of student performance suffers from the educationally valuable subjective mentoring relationship that is necessarily established between the clinical professor and her student.

Results of two studies showed that clinical legal education and simulation exercises were appropriate and effective in developing lawyer practice skills including client communication, interviewing and counseling skills. Clinical programs can contribute to legal education by making the law school experience more responsive to what lawyers are called upon to do as professionals and generally provide a public interest by-product – needed legal assistance to the poor.

It should be obvious from this quick look at teaching methods that no one law teaching method is uniquely effective and superior to others. First, learning characteristics of intellectually mature students are too complex and too variable to be uniformly affected by any single teaching method. Methods optimal for some students are detrimental to the achievement of others because of differing learning styles, strategies and cognitive awareness. Second, educational objectives of law courses vary so widely in their contours that no single approach can be effective in developing all or even most cognitive skills necessary for the practice of law.