University of Denver

Rachel Van Cleave: Law Schools Putting Students First

IAALS Intern

Dean Rachel Van Cleave of Golden Gate University School of Law recently published an article discussing the optimism of current law students and the responsibility of law schools to "have the courage to make our students' success our first priority." The prospect of going to law school in 2014 is a daunting one. A difficult job market, a transforming profession, and student loans do not deter students with a passion for studying law and becoming lawyers. Law schools, then, must honor the commitment of these students by providing them an education that matches their enthusiasm, courage, and optimism.

Dean Van Cleave has taken on that responsibility at Golden Gate, an Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Consortium school, and has embraced the challenge of educating law students to meet the demands of a changing legal profession. As she states, "[a] clear focus on the professional success of students and graduates gives us purpose and direction as we shift how we approach our craft in legal education."

In order to live up the great responsibility placed on legal educators, Dean Van Cleave suggests that law schools prioritize and follow three strategies:

  1. Teach students that life-long learning and continuing professional development is critical;
  2. Coach students in the range of skills necessary for professional success; and
  3. Support their cultivation of characteristics and values essential for their success and well-being.

By moving beyond the traditional Socratic method, instructors can engage their students in profound ways. Substantive law should be supplemented with an emphasis on life-long learning; teaching students how to teach themselves is an indispensable skill and essential to their value to clients, society, and the profession. Students must also be provided hands-on learning opportunities, which are more engaging and allow them to reflect on their role as counselors, furthering their professional growth. Dean Van Cleave acknowledges that a commitment by law schools to change their curriculum is both large and challenging, but equally worthwhile. Such changes are an investment in students and the future of the profession.

Riley Combelic is a second year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to