Best Practices on ‘Best Practices’: Legal Education and Beyond

Ira P. Robbins, American University Washington College of Law


“Best practices” has become one of the most common research and development techniques in the United States and throughout the international community. Originally employed in industry, the concept sought to identify superior means to achieve a goal through “benchmarking,” thereby allowing companies to obtain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. In recent decades, the use of best practices has become widely popularized, and is frequently utilized in the areas of administrative regulation, corporate governance, and academia. As the term has grown in popularity, however, so too has room for its abuse. In many instances, the term has been invoked to claim unsupported superiority in a given field.

This article examines the history behind the emergence of best practices, summarizes the prevailing models of the concept, surveys the worst practices on best practices, and proposes a working definition. It then applies that definition to the Clinical Legal Education Association publication, Best Practices for Legal Education. While there are contexts in which identifying and applying best practices may be appropriate, the article concludes that using best practices when thinking and writing about legal education is misleading and inappropriate.