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Law School Tool Promotes Blended Learning

LegalED, an online tool launching this fall, encourages law professors to try blended instruction that includes applying legal doctrine to real-life cases.

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Legal education has been reluctant to embrace technological trends, but the field will become modernized as firms set higher expectations for future employees, according to Michele Pistone, professor at the Villanova University School of Law and founder of LegalED, an online tool for law professors and students that will launch this fall.

A longtime criticism of law schools has been that although graduates are well-versed in legal analysis and reason, they lack the practical skills and professional values required of lawyers. It has long been common practice for associates to learn these skills during post-graduate jobs, with their professional educations paid for by their clients.

Today's graduates aren't as lucky. Employers no longer want to pay for lawyers to learn skills that should be acquired in school. Because of this, many firms have forbidden the practice of attorneys who have less than three years of experience. Law professors must now alter their instruction to provide students with a more well-rounded education that includes the skills and behavior integral to the practice of law.

"The way I see the future of legal education is primarily one that involves blended learning," Pistone said in an interview.

If professors upload lecture videos online, she explained, there will be more time in class for students to collaborate, reinforce concepts and learn basic competencies that will help them become successful lawyers. Pistone embraces blended learning and offers practice-oriented lessons in her immigration law clinic. Her students use online videos as learning and reference tools as they apply legal doctrine to real-life cases.

[ Learn more about how legal education is going digital: 14 Reasons Law Schools Must Teach Tech. ]

Pistone illustrated the deficiency in practical law instruction with an explanation of how contracts are typically taught. Students learn contract doctrine in class, she said, but many never read a legitimate contract until after graduation. If professors were to make doctrine-related resources available online, students could read and draft contracts in class to better prepare for professional jobs.

Despite the benefits of blended learning, Pistone predicts that many professors will be reluctant to use it. Most traditionally employ the Langdellian method of teaching in which students respond to their questions by consulting legal texts. Research has proven this method ineffective, Pistone said, as most students tune out while classmates answer questions -- and consequently miss information.

Pistone founded LegalED to inspire professors to experiment with blended instruction. As they include online resources in their curricula, instructors can share innovative teaching methods, access in-class exercises and assessment tools, and upload videos. Students who use LegalED will learn through video lectures that explain legal concepts.

Blended learning is on the docket to be included in multiple curricula this fall. In addition to Pistone's class, the website will be used in classes on immigration law at American University and legal writing at Michigan State University. Law classes at the University of Utah have already implemented the technique in classes on contract law and issues of professional responsibility in the legal profession.

"We are creating a community of law professors who are interested in collaborating and sharing resources," Pistone explained. "If we modernize the way we teach, we can make improvements in legal education."

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