Reflective Practice in Legal Education: “Debriefing” Our Work

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

So begins Tim Casey’s recent article, Reflective Practice in Legal Education: The Stages of Reflection, published in the Clinical Law Review. I recently had the pleasure of witnessing Casey’s presentation on Reflecting Practice in Legal Education at the Legal Writing Institute’s One Day Workshop at California Western School of Law, where Casey is a Professor in Residence and the Director of STEPPS Program.

In his article, Casey notes that while the ABA accreditation standards require externship programs to include reflective practice, few legal educators have studied the process of reflection, developed models for reflective practice, or know how to teach reflective practice. Casey’s article excellently defines reflective practice, then thoroughly outlines the stages of reflective practice using concepts from cognitive psychology and education theory.

In his presentation at Cal Western, Casey discussed moving law students from thinking about the “self,” concretely, and dualistically to thinking more universally/globally, abstractly, and contextually.

Reflection is extremely valuable for learning. Many legal educators are including reflecting practice in their classrooms. Yet, law students often balk at the concept of “reflecting,” unsure of the value of engaging in an ambiguous, “touchy-feely” exercise.

Let’s reframe the activity: Doctors have post-mortem reviews where they examine what worked and what didn’t and what can be learned from the experience. Lawyers  should “debrief” their work. Debriefing is less emotionally charged than “reflecting,” more analytical, more lawyerly.