April 21, 2010
Minding Our Own Business: Artifacts of Assessment
Posted by Anna Gelpern

I have not been at Our Business long enough to hold forth on curricular reform, but did want to share a recent experience that surprised me.  I got a strong group of students in my banking class this term, and was able to arrange a research project with an outside institutional "client," more or less on a whim.  Students opt into a 10-pp paper, and get to present it at the end of the term to one or more in-house lawyers at the institution.  There is no formal arrangement, just agreement on a topic, a moral commitment to read, and a visit.  I have only worked through about a third of the drafts so far, and the jury is very much out on the caper as a whole.  That said, I have been startled by my own attitude in reading the papers.  I find myself shaping a palpably different product from either the old student research paper or even the Big Law associate memo.  With an "external" product, the substantive filter is different, the standard is different,  the group dynamics are different.  The paramount goal appears to be right, useful, efficient -- somewhat distinct from learned, original, comprehensive. 

Surely this is old news for clinicians, among others.  Just as surely, I am not leaping to turn all my doctrine and theory classes into client memo exercises; more likely I will add this to negotiating and policy exercises in my menu of non-standard assessment options for small to medium-size classes.  But the experiment so far has reinforced my view that there are manageable ways to transmit the culture of practice in our industry's current un(radically)reformed state.  Giving students a chance to work the diverse artifacts of practice, and periodically adopting an assessment filter geared to the production of such artifacts, in turn helps bridge some discontinuities within and among teaching, theory, and practice. 

And I do think that it is in good part a matter of culture, which we carry along with skills and knowledge, to make our students "client-ready."  As Gordon's post might imply, this may be more subtle and challenging than fixing the course mix.

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