Experiential Legal Education: Required and Resisted

Barbara Bintliff
The University of Texas School of Law


Experiential education has become a required, and heavily emphasized, feature in American legal education. Experiential education includes providing students multiple opportunities to learn “practical” skills like negotiating, presenting reports and plans, developing policy statements, counseling clients, researching and writing, and replying to government agency proposals. In order to maintain accreditation, competency in experiential education skills is now a required outcome of American legal education.

The requirements for experiential education that American law schools must  incorporate into their program of legal education are highly specific. As law schools explore ways to implement the requirements, controversies have arisen over changing faculty workloads, allocation of resources, academic freedom, appropriate roles of non-faculty (including librarians, government employees, technology instructors, etc.) in providing legal education, physical space changes, and many other aspects.

Legal research and writing are widely considered the most fundamental legal skills and are among the first skills included in the list of experiential skills enumerated by the American Bar Association, the accrediting agency for American legal education. This paper will discuss ways in which law schools have implemented the experiential education requirement using legal research and writing as a case study. Both successes and challenges will be highlighted.

Given that trends in American legal education often impact legal education worldwide, and that the accreditation standards used in the US are typically considered best practices, it is important for legal educators around the globe to have a better understanding of this important development in American legal education.

Suggested keywords

Legal education–USA

Experiential legal education–USA

Skills education

Program of legal education

Curriculum—USA law schools

Accreditation standards—USA law schools

Academic freedom

CV / Resume

Barbara A. Bintliff

Joseph C. Hutcheson Professor in Law and Director of Research The University of Texas Austin, Texas U.S.A.

Barbara Bintliff is Joseph Hutcheson Professor in Law and Director of Research at the University of Texas School of Law, positions she has held since 2010. She is also the Director of the Jamail Center for Legal Research and the Tarlton Law Library, and a Professor in the University of Texas  School of Information. Previously, she was a Professor at the University of Colorado Law School and Director of the William A. Wise Law Library. In 2008-2011 she served as Reporter to the Uniform Law Commission drafting committee that produced UELMA, the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, legislation that has been enacted in 20 U.S. jurisdictions and is pending legislative action in several others. Professor Bintliff is co-author of Fundamentals of Legal Research, 10th edition, the standard reference work for legal research in the United States, as well as several other books, and has written numerous articles and chapters on academic freedom, leadership and administrative management, aspects of teaching legal research and research methods, information policy and management, and authentication of electronic legal materials. Professor Bintliff teaches classes on information policy and management, advanced research techniques, and comparative legal systems. She regularly presents at regional, national, and international conferences on topics including leadership and authentication and preservation of electronic legal materials. Professor Bintliff frequently serves as the chairperson of American Bar Association accreditation teams and has visited law schools around the United States for accreditation purposes.