Law students are changing, law practice is changing, law schools are criticized for failing to prepare practice-ready lawyers, and there is nearly universal consensus that legal education must transform. However, the principal tool that many faculty members rely on to prepare their courses, the Langdellian casebook, is ill-suited for such transformation. This prototypical casebook, which is still the standard for many courses today, was designed for the Socratic dialogue and the case method mode of instruction. Although there is still a place for that method in legal education, other methods of instruction—the carriage bolts and lag screws of modern legal education—cannot be hammered down with the traditional casebook.
Several influential studies of legal education conclude that law schools should focus more heavily on training students in professionalism and in skills vital to law practice. In addition, the American Bar Association (ABA) recently amended its accreditation standards for law schools to require the inclusion of more assessment and experiential learning in their curriculum. Over the last several decades, many faculty members have moved away from the traditional Socratic dialogue and case method form of instruction, at least in upper-division courses. Although many more are receptive to such change, the Socratic dialogue and the case method provide faculty with a high level of control over the classroom, and faculty members are reluctant to abandon those methods unless tools are available to ease the transition to other teaching methods. The traditional casebook does not provide these tools. Faculty members constantly identify a lack of teaching materials as a major impediment to the adoption of the teaching methods necessary to educate today’s law students for today’s law practice. There is a great demand for turnkey solutions to implement new teaching methods. ...
Technology should play a central role in the evolution of the casebook. Today’s students are digital natives, and technology has played a central role in their education beginning in elementary school. The evolved casebook should be an e-book, one unlike any e-book legal publishers have marketed in the past. Rather than a traditional casebook, it should be a “course source,” a one-stop shop for all of a faculty member’s teaching resource needs. The Carnegie Foundation Report, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (Carnegie Report), stressed the importance of training students in the knowledge, skills and values necessary to the legal profession. A course source should recognize that those three apprenticeships are interconnected. Additionally, a faculty member needs the tools to train students in all of those areas, rather than assume that a separate class focusing on the legal profession or research and writing will develop the student’s skills and values. In addition to the cases, statutes, notes, and problems included in casebooks today, a course source should include simulations, drafting, research, counseling, negotiation and other skills-related exercises, professionalism hypotheticals and problems, as well as quizzes and a variety of formative assessment tools that faculty can incorporate into their courses. As an e-book, it should take advantage of the wealth of materials available online and in a variety of media formats, by incorporating links to content to put the cases, materials, and disputes in the book in context, as well as to provide a fuller and richer understanding of the materials. Ideally, a course source would be created and distributed through a Creative Commons license as open-source materials, so faculty can choose the portions of the materials they find most useful and relevant for their teaching and distribute those materials to students at no cost.
This Article outlines a vision for the transformation of the casebook into the course source necessary for the broader adoption of a range of teaching methods by faculty. Part II describes the adoption of the Socratic dialogue and the case method in legal education, the criticisms to those modes of teaching, the development of teaching methods that are used to supplement or replace the Socratic dialogue and the case method, and the forces that are catalyzing the transformation of teaching methods in legal education. Part III describes how the changing nature of the student body in law schools requires faculty members to adopt new teaching methods to supplement or replace the Socratic dialogue and the case method. Part IV outlines the evolution of the Langdellian casebook and demonstrates that most traditional law school casebooks and course books are not designed to facilitate adoption of a variety of teaching methods that are necessary to educate a changing student body. Finally, Part V outlines a vision for the course source, a new generation of teaching materials to replace the casebook. Moreover, Part V discusses the benefits and limitations of the evolved casebook, and the impediments to its evolution. This Article highlights a prototype of the course source: Wetlands Law: A Course Source.
Stephen M. Johnson, The Course Source: The Casebook Evolved, 44 Cap. U. L. Rev. 591 (2016).