Alex Schneider: Making the Inns of Court interactive

Legal education is under assault.

Applications to law schools dropped nearly 14 percent this year, while jobs for graduates are increasingly harder to attain.

As many question the validity of a legal education, the GW Law School has responded by implementing a new “Inns of Court” program to break the school into smaller units, provide professional development and supplemental training and offer personalized learning and career advice specific to each student.

These are worthy initiatives. But to succeed, the Law School must tailor to students’ interests and become more engaging. I’ve talked to several of my colleagues in the Law School, and it’s safe to say the Inns of Court program has frustrated many students.

In practice, the Inns of Court’s purpose is twofold. First, it assigns students to dedicated faculty and staff mentors. And second, it is a weekly commitment for law students to attend a one-hour lecture. Lectures have included lessons about the legal job market, talks from law firm search firms and instructions on professional conduct.

Dedicated faculty and staff have clearly spent time developing programming, but there is still room for improvement. A number of changes, if implemented, would make the program more effective and beneficial to students.

As a whole, the programs have not been interactive, nor have they emphasized meeting peers or engaging in workshops. Instead, sessions are akin to lectures. Sure, students have a chance to engage with speakers, but too often, the format does not foster discussion. A preferable arrangement would be to sit at round tables and have a chance to interact with presenters and peers.

My favorite part of the program was a lecture called “How to Find Your Place in the New Legal Market,” in which the presenter did a great job of convincing attendees that employment prospects are dismal. Students would find this time better spent learning about the career aspirations of their peers while also having the chance to hear feedback from mentors.

Luckily, the template is already in place. GW Law’s personalized learning initiative acknowledges that students might actually know what they want and should receive specific education and advice.

Dean Paul Schiff Berman told me his goal was to tailor individual students’ experiences around their specific interests. His attempt to individualize education is commendable, but the Inns of Court has to be a part of that plan.

The Inns of Court sessions should be a time for students to think about their own individualized learning plans, as well as a chance for guest lecturers to provide constructive feedback during small group discussions.

Otherwise, we’re just wasting time.

Alex Schneider is a first year student in the GW Law School.

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