Lesson plans for law school

‘My tutor was disorganised.’ It’s a pretty common response in student satisfaction surveys. But there are tools out there to help you with planning and improve student satisfaction. In this post, we will look at lesson plans for law school.

Lesson planning is a much more useful tool. It can (and should) be used as a basis for planning your tutorials and seminars. There is no set format for lesson plans. And there is no ‘one plan to rule them all’. They can be as unique as the lesson being planned. But there are some basic steps that you can apply to all lesson plans and improve student satisfaction.

Seminars aren’t just about answers to problem questions

At the start, we have to acknowledge that seminars and tutorials can’t just be about answers to problem questions. I have even had the experience of being told by students that they have had tutors just read the suggested solution to them.

There is a whole pile of problems with tutorials like that. The biggest one is that it isn’t teaching students anything at all. No one in that tutorial room is thinking at all. Unless there is some planning given to a lesson that shows how to get to the answer, or even why the answer is the answer, it’s a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

Why are you writing a lesson plan?

This might sound like an odd question in light of the introduction. Surely the purpose is obvious, right? Improve your lesson organisation? That’s true, but there are some things to think about:

Who are you writing it for?

If you’re writing a lesson plan for yourself, then that’s going to mean that it can be straightforward. A lot of information about the course, the students and the lecture pattern will already be in your head. But if you’re lucky enough to have tutors or be working in a teaching team, then you will need to include more information on the lesson plan to make sure that students get a consistent experience.

If you are doing collaborative planning alongside law teachers for other students in the same year, then you will also want to identify links between subjects.Lesson plans for law school

You might also be writing your lesson plan as part of a package of teaching materials for a part, or all, of a course. For example, I will write more detailed lesson plans even if I am the only one reading them if I know I will use them again. If you are going to teach the same course again, detailed plans can help reduce preparation time. They can also help manage stress levels!

Are you writing a lesson plan or a lesson sequence?

Sometimes you won’t be able to get the learning outcomes you’ve planned for in a single lesson. You may have also planned for a sequence to scaffold students to an outcome – something I wrote about here.

So you might need to think about writing a sequence of steps or objectives to reach sequentially over several lessons. That means you’re going to have to plan for links between lessons. That includes the time to refresh material from the previous lesson.

What needs to go into a lesson plan?

There is no required form for lesson plans. But all lesson plans – even lesson plans for law school – should have some things in common.

What is the learning outcome?

In another post, I wrote about planning to teach case notes. I started by understanding what the bodies that set the standards for legal education in your jurisdiction require.

In Australia, those bodies are the Law Admissions Consultative Committee (LACC) and the Council of Australian Law Deans (CALD). All Australian admitting authorities have adopted the LACC’s academic requirements (‘prescribed areas of knowledge’) for admission. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, which is responsible for licensing and auditing Australian universities, has adopted CALD’s teaching and learning outcomes for LLB programs. Failing to satisfy both will create problems for you and your students.Law school lesson plans

Your university’s learning outcomes for the law degree probably reflect the LACC and CALD outcomes. Your course’s learning outcomes should also reflect them.

You should be able to explicitly link this network of overarching learning outcomes to your lesson. If you can’t, then that’s a good indication that you need to reconsider the content or purpose of the lesson.

The learning outcome for the lesson doesn’t have to be elaborate or sophisticated. For example, it could be as simple as ‘By the end of the lesson, students will be able to correctly cite a reported decision’. There is a direct link to CALD’s expectations about students’ abilities to research and communicate. There is also a direct link to the LACC’s expectations about ‘lawyers’ skills’. If you like, you can even include those references in your lesson plan (have a look at the Example Law School Lesson Plan).

What does the tutor need to know?

Although you are writing your lesson plans for law school to teach students, the tutor is also going to have to know some things as well!

  • In addition to the expected reading or preparation, your tutor (or even you) is going to find it useful to know what the students might already know. For example, if the lesson is part of the way through the contract course, the students should know about basic principles of offer and acceptance.
  • The lesson plan should also include a reference to the things that the tutor will need, like Powerpoint slides or other ‘props’ required for the lesson. I still include a list of materials on lesson plans for me as a way of making sure I stay organised.
  • The lesson plan also needs to include a suggested answer if it is that type of tutorial. Even if you are delivering the lesson yourself, it can make the process much less stressful if you know you won’t have to write an answer the night before.
The lesson sequence

Your lesson plans for law school are – obviously – going to include a plan for the lesson. But some things are common to most lesson plans:

  • Most lesson plans begin with an introduction and an orientation. The orientation is important. It provides a summary of what the lesson is going to cover. It also keys students into what they are about to do and (if it’s done well) begins to engage them. A summary of the lesson gives students an idea of where the lesson is headed. It sets up expectations about what’s going to be covered – which immediately addresses the ‘disorganised’ criticism. You can also answer the ‘So what?’ question at the start, rather than trying to explain the relevance of the lesson at the end.
  • A good lesson plan will have a sequence that marks each step toward the learning outcome for the lesson. In a standard problem-solving lesson, that might be broken into the steps that a good answer will address. A discussion-type lesson might have a series of steps building the fundamental concepts. In a skill-based lesson, it might be the traditional ‘watch me do it’ – ‘let’s do it together’ – ‘you try it alone’ scaffold sequence.
  • There should be an estimate of time for each step in the sequence. An estimate does two things. It provides helpful advice on time management, especially if the tutor has never taught the lesson (or at all) before. It also gives an indication of how complex or detailed a step should be. If a lesson plan suggests spending a long time on something, it’s a pretty good indication that it’s the focus for the lesson.


Law school lesson plans

I also include in my lesson plans, especially when I am writing them for others, an explanation of why students are doing something (you can see that in the Example Law School Lesson Plan). I make my teaching approach as transparent as possible for both law teachers working with me and for students. It is also a subtle way of explaining why a tutor can’t skip a step.

Conclusion summary and assessment

Just like a lesson plan has an orientation, it also has to have a conclusion. But you can add value to the conclusion in two significant ways:

  • Plan a summary of the lesson again in conclusion. Just like a good essay, a good law school lesson plan says what it’s going to do, does it and then says what it did. It re-emphasises the learning outcomes and provides an opportunity for students to make sure that they got the point.
  • Plan to assess the students at the end. Having an outcome is great, but not as great as making sure you achieved it. Assessment in lessons doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple quizzes can work. Simple written answers work just as well. Even easier is to watch and listen to all students during the lesson to see if they have got the point. For law teachers, it also means that you can make sure that you catch things that might need to be clarified, or even repeat things that have been missed.

Need some help?

There is a lot more about designing good lesson outcomes and even good lessons available. You can see how some of this comes together in Example Law School Lesson Plan.

But, if you would like to know more about good lesson design, let me know!

About Andrew Henderson

I am a lecturer, lawyer and researcher in Canberra with an interest in the 'hidden' or informal curriculum of law school. I am passionate about developing engaging and authentic educational experiences for law students.

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