Vernellia R. Randall, A Reply to Professor Ward, 26 Cumberland Law Review 121-123 (1995-1996) (3 Footnotes).

Vernellia Randall


Professor Ward's primary observation is that the results of my study “offer an opportunity to address the core question of whether we need basic reform of law practice, they do not, by themselves, offer an answer to that question.”   Her observation is absolutely correct and I hope that she, and others, will undertake that discussion. However, her observation is non-responsive to the primary issue of my article: the role of learning theory in helping us become better educators. 

       My paper does not address at all the question of whether learning styles affect the type of lawyers people become. Neither does it address whether people with a certain learning style type make “better lawyers.” My point was not that we do not offer a “successful education” to the students, but that, based on pedagogy, we do not provide an educational experience designed to promote effective student learning for the students we currently admit. When evaluated against pedagogy, legal education is sorely lacking.  

Among other shortcomings:

       • we teach, using one dominant method without regard to its educational effectiveness;

       • we do not clearly communicate student-centered learning objectives; that is, we do not tell students what it is they need to know or what they need to be able to do to perform adequately;

       • we teach basic legal analytical skills in extremely large classrooms (an oxymoron at best);

       • we teach one set of skills (oral analytical skills) and we test another (written analytical skills);

       • we provide little opportunity for students to practice the skills we do teach (oral analytical skills);

        • we provide no opportunity for students to practice the skills we test (written analytical skills);

       • we evaluate students based on only one or two exams a semester;

       • we evaluate students using a method (essay exams) which has been documented to lack reliability and validity;

       • we assign grades not based on actual criterion-referenced performance (learning objectives), but on norm-referenced performance (performance compared to other students);

       • we know little about pedagogy, learning theory or evaluation and seem singularly reluctant to learn;

       • we do little to help our students to understand how they learn and how to maximize their learning in law school.

       If we were talking about educators in any other field or at any other level we would have no choice but to call them incompetent. Whatever the result of a “ broader scholarly discourse,” we are not only scholars, but educators, and we have a responsibility to research, discuss, understand, and apply appropriate pedagogy.

       The fact is that we admit a student population that is diverse in its learning styles. As educators, we have an ethical, if not a legal, responsibility to those students right now -- today to provide them with a pedagogically-sound legal education. My study provides us with insight into how we might better do that:

       If law schools are serious about conforming legal education to known educational theory, law schools must do more than to take a “sink or swim” attitude toward student success. Law schools must understand which factors contribute to student learning and which do not. While understanding learning styles is not a cure-all for the ills of legal education, it is a start toward helping the student become a better self-learner. Legal educators could use the MBTI to help students maximize the learning experience by (1) helping them to understand how they learn best; (2) by helping them to understand how the learning environment differs from their preferred learning modes; and (3) by helping to determine activities and behaviors to maximize their learning, notwithstanding any learning style differences. 

       In the end, a “broader scholarly discourse” about law practice is, at best, only indirectly responsive to a “ pedagogical discourse” about how we can become better educators. Regardless of who is admitted to law school and the result of law practice reform, we have a professional responsibility, as educators, to help our students to understand how they learn and how they can maximize their learning. As a result, we must improve our skills as educators even as we engage in other relevant discourses.

 . Copyright (c) 1995 Vernellia R. Randall. All Rights Reserved. Associate Professor of Law, The University of Dayton, School of Law. J.D., Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College, 1987; M.S.N., University of Washington, 1978; B.S.N., University of Texas, 1972.