2010 Survey of Law School Experiential Learning Opportunities and Benefits

NALP Bulletin, May 2011

Recently NALP and the NALP Foundation worked with two NALP sections — the Lawyer Professional Development and Law Student Professional Development Sections — to create and implement the 2010 Survey of Law School Experiential Learning Opportunities and Benefits. The full report, available free of charge from NALP and also on the NALP Foundation website, provides a complete description of the research project and methodology.

This column touches on just a few of the questions asked and answered by the survey, which was completed by 930 law firm associates in November and early December 2010.

  • Did you participate in a clinic (or clinics) for credit representing individual clients during law school, and how useful was that experience in preparing you for the practice of law?
    About 30% reported having participated in at least one clinic during law school. Within this group, 63% rated these clinics "very useful" and only 4% of the respondents in this group rated the clinics as "not useful at all."

  • Did you complete an externship or field placement for credit during law school, and how useful was that experience in preparing you for the practice of law?
    About 36% of respondents reported having completed one or more externships or field placements during law school, and roughly 3 out of 5 (about 60%) associates who reported participating in at least one externship or field placement rated the experience as "very useful."

  • Did you take one or more legal practice skills or simulation courses during law school, and how useful were those courses in preparing you for the practice of law?
    Fully 70% of respondents indicated that they had taken one or more practice skills courses, with 40% reporting that they had taken three or more practice skills courses. The most common practice skills course taken by this group was Trial Advocacy. Surprisingly, the data reveal that the associates who reported participating in at least one of these courses considered them to be only moderately useful, and only 36% considered their practice skills courses to be "very useful."

  • Did you participate in volunteer pro bono service during law school, and if so, how useful was that experience in preparing you for the practice of law?
    By contrast, only 17% of those associates who had volunteer or required pro bono service experience during law school found this type of hands-on learning to be "very useful," with an average score of only 2.2 on a scale of 1 to 4 (with 1 being "not at all useful" and 4 being "very useful") compared to the overall usefulness ratings of legal clinics (average score of 3.4), externships or field placements (average score of 3.4), and skills courses (average score of 3.1).

Look to the full report for many details on these topics and more, including the setting for externship placements, the length of clinics, and the specific kinds of legal skills courses taken. There are differences between associates whose practice is litigation-based and those whose work is transactional that show, perhaps not surprisingly, that those whose practice is litigation-based rate their law school experiential learning opportunities more highly than those in non-litigation-based practices.

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