Members of the Cal Western faculty began working on this program in 2004 in response to several concerns.
1. Wide Array of Lawyering Skills
Students are currently offered a variety of practicum courses at CWSL; however there is no required systematic introduction to basic lawyering skills that all lawyers use. STEPPS integrates the variety of lawyering skills students will need for practice into one course.
2. Professional Responsibility and Ethics
STEPPS will offer greater, and more contextualized opportunity to learn and reflect on Professional Responsibility and Ethics than the current 2-credit course. Both the large class and the law office meetings will address issue of professionalism that lawyers regularly face.
3. Modern Learning Theory
Research in the area of learning clearly states that the most effective learning occurs under these conditions:
1. Orchestrated immersion – Creating learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience;
2. Relaxed alertness – Trying to eliminate fear in learners, while maintaining a highly challenging environment; and
3. Active processing – Allowing the learner to consolidate and internalize information by actively processing it.
These findings are based upon knowledge about how the brain works. In order to integrate these concepts into the learning experience, some elements need to be built into the process. These are:
1. Teachers immerse learners in complex, interactive experiences that are both rich and real;
2. Students have a personally meaningful challenge; and
3. Students gain insight about a problem through examining problem solving options.
Other important aspects of brain-based pedagogy include:
1. Feedback is best when it comes from experience, rather than from an authority figure;
2. People learn best when solving realistic problems;
3. The big picture can not be separated from the details;
4. The best way to learn professionalism is by participation in realistic environments that let learners try new things safely;
5. Learning involves the whole physiology; and
6. Emotions are a critical part of the learning process.
4. Exposure to Career Paths
Many students enter the third year without a clear idea about the kind of law or legal practice they prefer. STEPPS will expose students to the broad variety of work that lawyers do in time to make decisions about areas of concentration and/or internships.
Often students have to search for legal writing samples when applying for jobs or internships, because they have had very little writing experience other than their legal skills papers. They sometimes have minimal experience with other skills to include on their resumes. Portfolios of student work could help them effectively demonstrate their talents to potential employers.
6. National Trends in Legal Education
Several professional studies inspired and/or confirmed the decision to create the STEPPS Program. These are summarized below and, perhaps most significantly, two of these studies were published in 2007 and are receiving significant discussion and reaction from law schools. While many law schools are beginning the process of appropriate curricular reform, California Western is now implementing changes.
A. Carnegie Report
In 2007, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law. The authors of the report stressed the relationship between analytic thinking, skillful practice, and wise judgment, and found that a professional school must induct students in all three areas. Rather than provide a coherent integration of these aspects of professional work, most law schools teach each aspect separately, with greatest emphasis on analytical thinking. Less emphasis is given to skillful practice and even less on professional identity and purpose, which deal with the values of the profession. The Report states that these latter two areas must be taught by simulation and participation.
One of many relevant conclusions in the report states: “Compared with the centrality of supervised practice, with mentoring and feedback, in the education of physicians and nurses or the importance of supervised practice in the preparation of teachers or social workers, the relative marginality of clinical training in law schools is striking.”
The Report also focuses on the learning process from novice to expert. It finds “that learning happens best when an expert is able to model performance in such a way that the learner can imitate the performance while the expert provides feedback to guide the learner in making the activity his or her own.”
B. Best Practices for Legal Education
Another influential 2007 work, Best Practices for Legal Education, echoes the criticisms and suggestions of the Carnegie Report and identifies specific curricular and pedagogical strategies for helping students make the transition from novice to practitioner. The report concludes: “Students cannot become effective legal problem-solvers unless they have opportunities to engage in problem-solving activities in hypothetical or real legal contexts.”
The report is critical of legal education’s traditional curricular emphasis on analysis at the expense of “human connection, social context, and social consequences.” It states:
Expert judgment requires not the separation but the blending of knowledge and skill. In practice, knowledge, skill, and ethical components are literally interdependent: a practitioner cannot employ one without involving the others at the same time. The evidence suggests that in effective programs of clinical learning in many professional fields, the key is to use analytical thinking to foster, rather than replace, the cultivation of analogical and practical reasoning.
The report concludes that Professional Responsibility must be integrated into other learning.
ABA Accreditation Standard 302 requires law schools to provide substantial instruction in the fundamental skills and values enumerated in the MacCrate Report.
D. MacCrate Report
In July 1992, the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar issued a report entitled Legal Education and Professional Development – An Educational Continuum, Report of the Task Force on
The Task Force concluded that it is the responsibility of law schools and the practicing bar to assist students and lawyers to develop the skills and values they will need during their professional careers. The Task Force developed a Statement of Skills and Values that are desirable for practitioners to possess; it encouraged law schools to use these when considering modifications to or development of skills and values courses.
The STEPPS curriculum addresses all of these concerns.