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Experiential Learning Gets Official at GSU Law School

Lisa Bliss is named school's first director of experiential education, will coordinate hands-on legal training offerings

, Daily Report

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Lisa Bliss:
Lisa Bliss: "Experiential offerings ...integrate theory and practice."

In a sign of the times, Georgia State University College of Law has made clinical law professor Lisa Bliss its first director of experiential education.

Experiential learning is the biggest buzz-phrase in legal education as law schools respond to the demand from both law firms and students to produce graduates with hands-on experience who can quickly start earning their keep. Law schools are augmenting the century-old Socratic case method with hands-on skills training in an effort to help their graduates find employment in a bleak legal job market.

Bliss said she is the first person to hold this role at GSU, adding that about 50 law schools have created similar positions, most in the last couple of years.

"This is cutting edge. The whole profession is shifting. Law schools really need to be thoughtful about what it is we're offering and how we can best prepare students for the changing profession. We're not going back to the way we were," she said.

Bliss is adding the new role to her existing duties as a clinical law professor and co-director of the law school's Health Law Partnership (HeLP), a clinic aiding children whose medical problems have a legal component.

GSU has been developing its experiential education offerings for several years, Bliss said, through clinics, externships and curriculum changes. An influential 2007 report on legal education by the Carnegie Foundation catalyzed the shift, she said. The report advocated integrating more practical skills and consideration of values with the study of legal doctrine.

Some of the development has been systematic, such as re-tooling two required courses—legal writing and legal advocacy—to add more hands-on learning, while other innovations have been more ad hoc, as professors add experiential components to the courses they offer.

"Part of this role is coordinating what we have. Our experiential offerings are pretty robust right now," Bliss said. "For me it is a wonderful opportunity to help facilitate the innovation that we are already doing—to strengthen and coordinate our existing programs and see where we want to go in the future."

The faculty wants to look at how experiential education fits in the curriculum more systematically, Bliss said, to help students map out a course of study that assists them professionally.

Lean times drive change

Legal education, like the legal profession, is undergoing enormous changes. Law schools already were feeling pressure from firms to produce graduates with experience in the basics of practicing law, even before the recession hit in 2008. Firms were experiencing their own squeeze from clients who balked at paying for the services of first-year associates who might know a lot of case law, but not much else.

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