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Wolters Kluwer's Legal Education "Leading Edge" Conference

Wolters Kluwer's Legal Education "Leading Edge" Conference random
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Vice President, General Manager

From July 14 to 16 this year, Wolters Kluwer hosted our first ever legal education Leading Edge conference in Riverwoods, Illinois. Leading Edge is an unusual approach to meetings for the law school community. We invited twenty leading thinkers and innovators in legal education from around the country — faculty or deans who have made significant advances in how their law schools connect with and cultivate today's students — and gathered them together for three days in a small informal meeting center outside Chicago. facility-1a.jpgGiven the tremendous changes that all who are involved in law schools are experiencing, our goal was to convene a candid and insightful discussion about how law schools should be seeking to evolve. But in order to ensure that the discussion was collaborative and free-ranging, we didn't set a firm agenda in advance. There was no keynote speaker; no morning general session; no planned breakouts. Instead, we ran the conference as an "unconference", which means that the agenda was decided by the participants once they arrived.

How did we do this? Although many of the discussions at the conference revolved around how to better leverage digital media, our approach to planning the agenda was actually quite a throwback! We put up a white board, with time slots and meeting rooms delineated.

whiteboard-1a.jpgThen conference attendees wrote ideas for sessions they wanted to host on index cards and posted them on the board. Because the people at the conference were all passionate about legal education, within twenty minutes the white board looked like this:

Once that was done the conference proper began. For each time slot, everyone browsed the options and chose the session they were most interested in. The session leader would get a sense of who was in the room, and then begin a candid, collective discussion designed to hash through the basics of the topic and then brainstorm compelling ideas for how to improve legal education moving forward.

All discussions were governed by a version of Chatham House rules, which meant that while everyone was encouraged to share ideas and opinions that we learned at the conference with colleagues from the outside world, we couldn't share who it was who said them. This relative confidentiality encouraged everyone to speak candidly and thoughtfully about topics that can be difficult to discuss in home contexts. As it turned out, the Chatham House rules were one of the elements of the conference that people enjoyed most.

Over two days, the sessions were wide-ranging, intense, and extremely fruitful. Here are a few examples of what was discussed:

  • MOOC-Mania: How technology enhanced education is changing the face of higher education
  • Dealing with faculty status issues during times of economic crisis
  • Changing how we assess students
  • What is legal ed for? What's its purpose? Who should be given it?
  • The changing market for entry level employment for law graduates and its implications for the academy
  • Gender in legal advocacy
  • The (somewhat dismal but not necessarily as bad as some say) state of legal education
  • LE-Blog-Icon.jpgWhat law schools can learn from architecture schools
  • What makes a good casebook/course book (or do we need them at all?)
  • Teaching Millenials from the nineteenth century law curriculum
  • How will changing demographics of law students impact law schools and the legal profession?
  • Teaching "soft" skills in "hard" classes
  • What the rest of the university can learn from the law school experience
  • The Big Picture — 7 observations about legal education
  • How mindset can promote change in legal education
  • The changing legal academy: Does one size fit all?
  • 21st century classrooms — Designing spaces for learning/flipped teaching
  • How should law schools be "forming" professional identity in a changing market

dinner-1a.jpgWe had plenty of time set aside for socializing and relaxing together as a group. There were some very nice dinners under a tent with really good food and ever better jazz, and some overly competitive bocce and cornhole games. Between sessions people continued the discussions informally, getting to know each other's thinking and building lasting ties.

For those of us at Wolters Kluwer, it was an extremely useful experience — we learned a tremendous amount about law school goals and challenges from the inside. For the faculty and deans who attended, according to their feedback it appears to have been a rewarding and special time as well.

We are working on a way to share some of the key conclusions of the conference in a written form with anyone who is interested, so please follow this blog to stay abreast of progress on that front.

The first Leading Edge conference was so rewarding that we have already begun planning for the second annual conference in July 2015. We'll keep news about that event updated here.