California Western School Of Law building background

History of the STEPPS program

The STEPPS Program emerged in 2008 when the California Western faculty responded to several concerns. The following page looks back on the development of the STEPPS Program.

Development of the STEPPS Program

1. Development of Lawyering Skills

While students could take a variety of practicum courses at CWSL; there was no required systematic introduction to basic lawyering skills that all lawyers use. The STEPPS Program identified the essential lawyering skills students would need for practice in one course.

2. Legal Ethics in Context

 The STEPPS Program offered the opportunity to learn and internalize the rules of professional conduct and the norms of professional practice. The contextualized approach to legal ethics presented a better way to learn legal ethics.

3. Modern Learning Theory

Research in the area of learning clearly states the most effective learning occurs under these conditions:

  1. Orchestrated immersion – Creating learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience.
  2. Relaxed alertness – Trying to eliminate fear in learners, while maintaining a highly challenging environment.
  3. Active processing – Allowing the learner to consolidate and internalize information by actively processing it.

These findings are based on knowledge about how the brain works. To integrate these concepts into the learning experience, some of the following elements need to be built into the process:

  1. Teachers immerse learners in complex, interactive experiences that are both rich and real.
  2. Students engage with a personally meaningful challenge.
  3. Students gain insight about a problem through examining problem-solving options.

Other important aspects of brain-based pedagogy include:

  1. Feedback is best when it comes from experience, rather than from an authority figure.
  2. People learn best when solving realistic problems.
  3. The big picture cannot be separated from the details.
  4. The best way to learn professionalism is by participation in realistic environments that let learners try new things safely.
  5. Learning involves the whole physiology.
  6. Emotions are a critical part of the learning process.

4. Exposure to Career Paths

STEPPS exposes second-year students to the broad variety of the work lawyers do. By exposing students to the various areas of law or legal practice early on, CWSL students can make informed decisions about the upper-level seminars, areas of concentration, or externship opportunities they would like to pursue in their third year. 

5. Portfolios

Students in the STEPPS Program acquire a portfolio of written work and video-recorded examples of legal skills while learning a variety of professional communications skills, such as interviewing and counseling. These portfolios can help students effectively demonstrate their talents to potential employers.

6. National Trends in Legal Education

Several professional studies inspired and confirmed the decision to create the STEPPS Program. These studies are summarized below and, perhaps most significantly, two of these studies were published in 2007 – after the implementation of the STEPPS Program. While many law schools were beginning the process of considering curricular reform, California Western had already implemented changes to the curriculum in line with the current research.

a. Carnegie Report

In 2007, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law. The authors of the report stressed the relationship between analytic thinking, skillful practice, and wise judgment, and found that a professional school must induct students in all three areas. Rather than provide a coherent integration of these aspects of professional work, most law schools teach each aspect separately, with greatest emphasis on analytical thinking. Less emphasis is given to skillful practice and even less to professional identity and purpose, which deal with the values of the profession. The Report states that these latter two areas must be taught by simulation and participation.
One of many relevant conclusions in the report states: “Compared with the centrality of supervised practice, with mentoring and feedback, in the education of physicians and nurses or the importance of supervised practice in the preparation of teachers or social workers, the relative marginality of clinical training in law schools is striking.”

The Report also focuses on the learning process from novice to expert. It finds “that learning happens best when an expert is able to model performance in such a way that the learner can imitate the performance while the expert provides feedback to guide the learner in making the activity his or her own.”

b. Best Practices for Legal Education

Another influential 2007 work, Best Practices for Legal Education, echoes the criticisms and suggestions of the Carnegie Report and identifies specific curricular and pedagogical strategies for helping students make the transition from novice to practitioner. The report concludes: “Students cannot become effective legal problem-solvers unless they have opportunities to engage in problem-solving activities in hypothetical or real legal contexts.”

The report is critical of legal education’s traditional curricular emphasis on analysis at the expense of “human connection, social context, and social consequences.” It states:
Expert judgment requires not the separation but the blending of knowledge and skill. In practice, knowledge, skill, and ethical components are literally interdependent: a practitioner cannot employ one without involving the others at the same time. The evidence suggests that in effective programs of clinical learning in many professional fields, the key is to use analytical thinking to foster, rather than replace, the cultivation of analogical and practical reasoning.
The report concludes that Professional Responsibility must be integrated into other learning.

c. ABA Standard 302

ABA Accreditation Standard 302 requires law schools to provide substantial instruction in the fundamental skills and values enumerated in the MacCrate Report.

d. MacCrate Report

In July 1992, the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar issued a report entitled Legal Education and Professional Development – An Educational Continuum, Report of the Task Force on Law School and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap. This report has become known as the MacCrate Report.

The Task Force concluded that it is the responsibility of law schools and the practicing bar to assist students and lawyers to develop the skills and values they will need during their professional careers. The Task Force developed a Statement of Skills and Values that are desirable for practitioners to possess; it encouraged law schools to use these when considering modifications to or development of skills and values courses


The STEPPS curriculum was designed to address all the above concerns.