Experiential Learning: A Critical Element of Legal Education in China (and Elsewhere)

David F. Chavkin, American University Washington College of Law


The author examines the Carnegie Foundation report, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (2007) and its endorsement of a three tiered apprenticeship for legal education (the first being intellectual or cognitive; the second introducing the student to the forms of expert practice shared by competent practitioners; and the third initiating students into the purposes and attitudes that are guided by the values for which the professional community is responsible) as a launching point to champion experiential learning as necessary to achieve the goals of the second and third apprenticeships presented by the report. The author argues that the current pedagogical model of law school education is dehumanizing and that clinical experience—dealing with real clients who have real legal issues--provides the ethical and motivational support for the kind of meaningful legal education that will produce responsible and effective lawyers. To the extent that one of the goals of legal education in China should be the development of lawyers with a similar level of commitment to improving the profession and to the rule of law, and that the conclusions in the Carnegie Report are based on adult learning theory, not on American adult learning theory, the Report carries a similar message for reform of the Chinese system of legal education.