Monday, 19 March 2012

LL.M. Studies in the United States - Do We Have Something to Learn?

I interviewed three women who took part in LL.M. studies in the US during the academic year 2010–2011. The interviewees were born 1980–1982 and graduated from Law School in Helsinki and Turku in 2006–2007. LL.M. studies were conducted at the Harvard Law School, the University of Chicago Law School and the New York University School of Law (NYU Law). My goal was to examine the American education and to compare it to the Finnish legal education.
In the learning environment in the US the work done before the lectures is emphasised. Students have to write reaction papers in which they consider the themes for the next lecture in advance. The epilogue after the lecture then brings the work together. The learning material is so large that students are forced to learn to identify relevant material and compress it before the exam. The process complies with problem solving and inquiry-based formula. Students work at the limits of their performance with the teacher.
There are some differences in the Anglo-American and continental legal systems. However, case-based learning has been successfully tested also in Finland. In Finland teachers often complain about the lack of debate. The work done before the lectures improves the level of the discussions. We must also remember that the debate is not necessarily at a very high level, if no one leads it. The teacher in the United States is not a partner and a coach, but an authority, whose position is based on know-how. This is an exception in relation to the tradition of inquiry learning. The view and the teacher identity are shaped by experience. The respondents stressed the importance of the experience of the teachers. Young researchers do not have a decade of experience. This can be compensated by a desire to develop.
To write reaction papers before the lectures is a good way to improve the quality of the discussions and interactivity in classes. In this case, lectures may be fruitful for the teacher as well. A teacher's toolbox should also include articles and court cases to analyze. It is not enough to go through students' seminar papers.
This is an excerpt of an article published in Lakimies 2012/1:

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