Toward a Pedagogy of Cultural Self-Awareness in the First-Year Law School Classroom

Document Type

Book Chapter


For more than two decades, clinical legal education scholars have touted the value of cultural competence. Professors, practitioners, and law school administrators now agree that experiential learning opportunities not only provide students with exposure to real clients and organic factual scenarios, but also offer students the opportunity to work with diverse individuals. Indeed, because cultural competence is so important to the lawyer-client relationship, many clinical programs offer classroom instruction on cultural competence before allowing students to interact with clients.

Generally, clinical education is reserved for upper-level law students while first-year students spend their time immersed in doctrinal courses and a legal writing and analysis course. Clinical faculty have no opportunity to introduce cultural competence skills to law students unless they enroll in a clinic. As a result, many students receive no training in cultural competence.

This chapter proposes a framework for introducing cultural competence during the first year of law school. The central focus of the framework is the concept of cultural self-awareness. Through an education in cultural self-awareness, students will learn that they are cultural beings whose perspectives on the law are colored by their own life experiences and any attending biases. They will also learn that judicial decision-makers, like other human beings, are influenced by their culture. This approach is necessary to disabuse first-year law students of the notion the law is objective, gender-neutral, and colorblind. The chapter offers specific strategies for a Torts course, but the general concepts are applicable to the other first-year courses.

Publication Date


Book Title

Cultural Competence in Higher Education