Reconsidering Collaboration and Modeling: Enriching Clinical Pedagogy

Harriet N. Katz, Reconsidering Collaboration and Modeling: Enriching Clinical Pedagogy, 41 Gonz. L. Rev. 315 (2006).

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A major focus of clinical legal scholarship has been discerning the optimum teaching relationship between supervising attorneys and law students. Focusing on how much guidance supervising attorneys should provide to law students, clinicians’ principal answer has been to promote “nondirective” supervision as the teaching strategy that is most consistent with fundamental educational goals – fostering the development of lawyers who understand complex role demands and high professional standards and are prepared to reflect on and improve their practices. However, my impressions have long been that collaborative exchanges between students and supervisors and substantial opportunities for students to observe models of practice by their supervisors and by othe attorneys play a significant role in student learning in externship clinical education.

To better understand these teaching relationships, I analyzed student experiences in the Rutgers-Camden externship program. I believe these experiences support the conclusion that collaboration and modeling provide excellent environments for students to begin their development as lawyers. In this article, I argue further that other settings for clinical education can also embrace collaboration and modeling, along with nondirective supervision, as powerful tools to teach professionalism and reflective practice. These teaching methods have already been acknowledged in some clinical literature. The purpose of this article is to contribute to continued dialogue among clinicians about reexamination of our teaching methods.

Clinical legal education theory links nondirective supervision to role assumption, in which law students perform their lawyering roles as independently as possible at every step and thereby learn skills while feeling the full weight of the lawyering responsibility. Students in role develop the counseling relationship with their clients, investigate issues, research alternatives, determine courses of action, and take steps toward implementing their decisions. Nondirective supervising lawyers review student preparation and performance, offering feedback and dialogue about decisions without revealing their own points of view. Proponents of strictly nondirective methods of supervision assume that more explicit direction, such as having the supervisor instruct the student how to perform a task or demonstrate a skill in a real case, would diminish the educational potential of role assumption and reduce student learning…. Read More

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