Teaching Law And Educating Lawyers: Closing The Gap Through Multidisciplinary Experiential Learning


  • Alan Lerner University of Pennsylvania
  • Erin Talati University of Pennsylvania




Interdisciplinary legal education found its roots nearly a century ago, but recently there has been a renewed trend both in the literature and in practice to increase interdisciplinary opportunities in clinical and scholarly activities. In the classroom, proponents have argued that interdisciplinary education is essential to understanding the cultural and social contexts in which legal conflicts arise. Additionally, scholars praise the interdisciplinary model – in both teaching and practice – for its tendency to generate a higher level of thinking from those considering problems from diverse viewpoints. The use of interdisciplinary models also promotes mutual respect between professionals from different disciplines, a working knowledge of the domain of another discipline, enhanced communication through learning both the mechanisms and vocabulary of other professions, and increased understanding another discipline’s “rules, beliefs, and ethical principles.” Finally, creating an interdisciplinary framework can enhance the efficacy of the lawyer’s problem solving efforts through providing a means by which goals, strategies, and unique insights of different “helping professions” can be united in pursuit of a common purpose.The value that interdisciplinary approaches offer is often sharply countered by the challenges it creates. The most common challenges are those created by perceived or actual role boundaries within individual professions and the process of professional socialization that occurs during traditional legal training. Although this first criticism is challenging, it is not impossible to overcome. The second barrier to productive interdisciplinary work is also mutable, and reversing a socialization process that disfavors interdisciplinary experiences should therefore be a primary focus of legal educators. This paper proposes that  interdisciplinary advocacy for children involved in the child welfare system provides an intense experiential learning process, which engages students in a mutually dependent relationship with students from other disciplines and promotes long-term appreciation and facility for interdisciplinary work. It describes this experience in the context of one such clinic, providing a model for the development of future interdisciplinary endeavors.