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Home » Resources » Students » Opportunities for interaction: improving student engagement in the law school setting

Opportunities for interaction: improving student engagement in the law school setting

contributors | abstract | presentation | biographies


Bonnie McAlister (Elon University School of Law, USA)


Lecture and interactive workshop


Traditional teaching of law often may ignore the reality that lawyers will be practicing in an environment involving people, with all of their warts and blemishes. If all that is involved in the practice of law is the regurgitation of information, the citation of cases, and the pronouncements of learned folk, then the idea that real people need the services of sensitive, engaging and interactive lawyers holds no weight. But, if instead, a notion prevails that lawyers need be sensitive, interactive, and engaging people, then there are things that we can do in the educative process that insures that our students will become involved in their communities while in law school, and this will result, at the end of the day, in a lawyer who takes responsibility for his/her community leadership and service. This is the philosophy of the teaching of law at Elon University School of Law- lawyers as leaders.

There is a prescription for producing lawyers as leaders to which we hold at Elon Law. In their first year, law students learn about themselves, their personality preferences, their leadership styles, their interpersonal needs, and their reactions to change. We offer a series of tests that gauge the performance of students on a number of activities and then we supply each student with a coach to review the test results and consider the implications of these results on their subsequent performance. In their second year, our law students learn about others and how to react to the diversity of viewpoint, the need for teamwork, and the elements of problem solving. Students work in teams to examine a community problem. They work with local agencies to better understand their particular problems and then create a program for problem solution. The agency considers their solution and provides an evaluation of their problem solution. In their third year, our students take on a project that places them in a position to solve the real problems of a real entity outside of the law school. This three-pronged program requires that our students are skilled communicators, good problem solvers, and competent lawyers as well. They research issues, study the relevant law that speaks to those issues, and devise a project or program that addresses the important issues.

This session will examine the structure of our program at Elon, and provide opportunity for participants to ask questions as to what we do, how we do it and the value of what we do in the community. We will review the various tests that we use, the implications of their results, the hands-on experiences that we offer our students, and the effect that this approach has on our community.

The session will provide a time for participants to discuss their reactions to our program and its feasibility for use in their own settings.

This proposed program speaks to the issue of how we can improve student engagement.


Short biographies of panel members

Bonnie McAlister is currently at Elon University School of law, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. Prior to joining the Elon faculty, McAlister was a faculty member at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina where she taught subjects specializing in public speaking, group dynamics, interpersonal communications and persuasion. She continues to serve as Adjunct Faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. Professor McAlister has participated in 3 previous Learning in Law Annual Conferences at the University of Warwick and one Association of Law Teachers Conference at Oxford, UK, and looks forward to sharing the values, philosophy and teaching techniques practiced at Elon University School of Law. Professor McAlister has published articles including “Changing the Field: Recognizing the Importance of Communication Methodology in the 21st Century American Law School” in the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues.

Last Modified: 18 July 2011

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