Case Study: Does cooperative placement accelerate professional development

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The title of an earlier essay posed a threshold question for legal ed reform: "If We Make Legal Education More Experiential, Would it Really Matter?" (Legal Whiteboard, Feb 2014). I answered "yes" but admitted it was only my best guess. So I also outlined the conditions necessary to prove the concept.

This companion essay is case study of how one type and brand of experiential education -- cooperative placements at Northeastern Law -- appears to accelerate the professional development of its law students. The outcome criteria are comprised of the three apprenticeships of Educating Lawyers (2007) (aka The Carnegie Report) --cognitive skills, practice skills, and professional identity.

The better outcomes flow from Northeastern's immersive, iterative, and integrative approach. First, students are immersed in full-time co-ops that last a standard 11 weeks. Second, students move through four iterations of coops interspersed with four quarters of upper-level classes. Third, this experiential approach is integrated into Law School's system of values -- i.e., it is perceived as central rather than marginal to the School's educational mission.

Northeastern's coop model asks more of faculty and students, thus it may be hard to replicate. Yet, there is evidence that such an approach does in fact accelerate professional development in ways that ought to please law school critics and reformers. The benefits may be well worth the costs.

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