Professor William Byrnes, Associate Dean for Graduate and Distance Education Programs at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, advocates educational teaching methodologies that he says will reverse declining enrollment in law schools and stem the tide of reduced hiring by law firms that are hesitant to hire what they call “ill-prepared” law school graduates. His methodologies are covered in a white paper released today, called Alternative Methods of Teaching and The Effectiveness of Distance Learning For Legal Education. The white paper makes the case for combining traditional classroom learning with online education because it is cost effective, accessible, flexible, and addresses the biggest criticism of legal education today, the lack of law school graduates who can think and practice law.
“I contend that distance education technologies present opportunities for professors to enhance student learning, such as through a ‘flipping the classroom’ model, when combined with the in-classroom environment,” said Professor Byrnes.
In his white paper, Professor Byrnes asserts that legal education today has to be recalibrated so that it is innovative, cross-disciplinary, simultaneously accessible across global borders, and able to expand without millions of dollars for brick and mortar.
According to Professor Byrnes, law schools are experiencing 40% less enrollment today than in years past and new standards are needed to reverse that decline. These new standards address what Professor Byrnes says are the three missing elements in legal education today:
1. Determination of programmatic outcomes: Currently stakeholders in the process are faculty and administrators. Schools need to include the two other key components of designing outcomes – the student body and industry leaders who will be hiring the graduates.
2. Train behaviors that underpin effective performance: The industry hiring graduates defines the desired behaviors; soft skills like a strong personal presence and excellent proficiency with online technology such as web-based video teleconferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangouts. Law schools’ programs today are based on teaching models that are over 100 years old when in actuality they need to mirror the skill sets by which law firms benchmark performance.
3. Teach underlying knowledge and hard skills: The days when law firms and corporations were willing to train a law school graduate for 2-3 years are gone. Today law schools must produce graduates with practice-ready specialization. Students must be able to perform effectively, think creatively, know the law, and achieve the desired outcomes of the hiring firm.
The methods leveraged by Professor Byrnes have optimized learning by using multiple forms of media to match the wide range of students’ personal learning styles. The use of traditional and digital teaching platforms increases learning and expands teaching flexibility.
“The law needs to be taught collaboratively by professors who are attuned to the outcomes sought by the hiring industry,” said Professor Byrnes. “I believe that law schools desire this change and are looking for a proven model with which to accomplish it.”
Professor Byrnes claims that law schools today teach students to identically repeat skills when in fact students need to learn to apply their knowledge creatively to changing scenarios. He believes that now is the time for faculty to employ various teaching models that meet the individual learner’s level.
Professor Byrnes’ findings are based in part on studies that show that the more control, manipulation and interactivity that a learner has over the content, the higher the learning. As interaction increases, the teacher becomes a facilitator and co-learner, and learning increases even more. Leveraging alternative methods of teaching with great success is what prompted Professor Byrnes to bolster the adoption of these methods throughout the current legal education system.
In his white paper, Professor Byrnes argues that the challenge for institutions and faculty for the pedagogical development of distance learning is to facilitate deep learning and understanding through the creation of learning materials and opportunities for various learning experiences.
Professor Byrnes explains, “The goal is to implement best practices in law schools across the country to the benefit of our esteemed institutions, our law students and the legal system at large.”
Associate Dean William Byrnes is “…one of the leading authors and best-selling authors in the professional markets” with 30 books and 23 book chapters that have sold in excess of 100,000 copies in print and online and have over one thousand online annual database subscribers. He has been called “one of America’s leading experts on the global battle against money laundering”. His publishers include LexisNexis, National Underwriter, Wolters Kluwer, and Thomson West. He has written over one thousand media articles and spoken at over one hundred events.
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