(Re-)Designing a Clinic Using Backwards Design

Document Type


Publication Date

May 2015

Conference / Event Title

38th Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Conference on Clinical Legal Education, Leading the New Normal: Clinical Education at the Forefront of Change


May 5-6, 2015This workshop is a four-part, interactive program that covers the beginning phases of developing a new clinic or revising an existing one. During the workshop, participants will use backwards design, an approach to instructional design and planning pioneered by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. By the end of the workshop, participants can expect to have identified the major goals of their clinics, the final grading assessment and rubric of their clinics, and the learning outcomes for their students. Readings will be assigned before the conference. Then, throughout the workshop, participants will receive feedback from colleagues and facilitators on the work they do during the workshop. Participants will apply for a spot in the workshop before the conference and must commit to attend the entire workshop. In addition to the other information in the application, applicants should also indicate the course that they would like to redesign and the reasons for the redesign.


Legal education confronts a period of intense change. These changes include drops in enrollment, a market downturn in jobs for graduates, transformations in law practice, and a rethinking of the roles of and the need for lawyers. Some argue that law schools must address these changes or lose control over legal education. Proposals to eliminate the third year, to revamp the traditional curriculum, to graduate “practice-ready” lawyers, and to permit students to take the bar early, all act as the forward edge of reform in legal education. A “new normal” seems to be taking hold.This conference will explore this new paradigm, and ask whether and how clinicians should lead in the “new normal” of legal education. The conference will foster conversations that will help us to understand and to engage productively with the situation we now face. In particular, we will explore three categories of question:“What is the New Normal?” This track focuses on the new realities that profoundly affect legal education in general and clinical education in particular. We will ask how law schools, universities, and clinicians understand and frame the new normal, including: calls for reform in legal education; the problems associated with reduced resources; declining enrollments; and an uncertain job market. We will also ask about our students’ experience of the new normal, focusing on changes in what we teach and how we mentor our students. This track will describe the new normal and explore the ways in which clinicians are responding to its impact on their schools and their students.“What Role Should Clinicians Play?” This track explores the roles that clinical faculty and clinics play in the new law school environment. Our work is central to the reform movement in legal education. We are no longer the radicals in the basement; our methods are now well-accepted and are being adopted and adapted, for better or for worse, in new ways across the curriculum. We have new leadership roles in legal education in ways that are unfamiliar to many of us and troublesome to some. Some of us are exploring ways to deliver experiential education at lower cost and to larger numbers of students; others resist these changes as delivering a shallow version of what is taught in the in-house clinic. And as more clinics and other experiential courses are established in new practice areas and for clients who are not underrepresented, is there reason to be concerned about the shared commitment to social justice that drew us to the community of clinical education?“What is the Future of the New Normal?” Finally, the conference will help participants prepare for what’s coming next, both in the use of technology (for both teaching and practice) and changes in the structure and delivery of legal services. Sessions will help clinicians assess how to change their own service delivery mechanisms, and how to help students to participate fully in the rapidly changing world they encounter after graduation.

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