Faculty Spotlight: Andrea Funk

Lawyering skills professor shares expertise on assessment and student learning in new book

Professor Andrea Funk speaks to attendees of Whittier Law School's 2015 Assessment Conference

“Are our students learning what we are teaching?”

For Andrea Funk, director and associate dean of the Lawyering Skills Institute at Whittier Law School, that’s the most important question educators can ask themselves. It’s especially critical in the rapidly changing world of legal education, with the new ABA-mandated law school assessment standards.

Much of Dean Funk’s scholarship over the last decade has been focused on law school assessment. She has written and spoken about the topic extensively, and this spring her new book, The Art of Assessment, will be published. It’s designed to make assessment more accessible, sustainable, and meaningful for law schools.

“While law faculty have always assessed their students, law schools have never before been required to systematically assess their program of legal education to determine whether they are achieving their goals,” she notes. “With the new ABA assessment standards in place, law schools must now do so.”

That may seem like a herculean task, but as her book explains, it need not be. Dean Funk demonstrates how faculty members and their institutions can create a culture of assessment through the shared goal of improving student learning. That concept—improving student learning—is at the heart of everything she does.

After law school, Dean Funk clerked for a federal judge in the Central District of California and practiced law in federal and state courts for six years before transitioning to academia. For the past 20 years, she has devoted her career in legal education to helping shape the type of lawyers her students choose to become.

“Year after year, I am continually impressed with who our students are as humans and what they want to do in the world with their legal education,” she says. “They all have such unique voices and compelling stories to tell. It is an honor to be a part of their journey.”

Whether teaching the fundamentals to first-year students or conducting a litigation or transactional simulation with upper-level students, there’s a recurring theme to Dean Funk’s pedagogical style: she wants her students to achieve independent problem-solving skills so they can better serve their clients. That approach resonates with her students.

“She provided me with the tools to solve my problems, but she didn’t hold my hand,” one student wrote of Dean Funk in an evaluation. “She makes sure that we all understand the material and we are all learning something,” another said.

In addition to her work in the classroom, Dean Funk’s role in the Lawyering Skills Institute has allowed her to significantly enhance the lawyering skills program at Whittier. In fact, two ABA site teams that have visited during her tenure have lauded the program as a point of strength, with one memo referring to it as a “stronger than usual” program. That distinction, she is quick to point out, is a team effort.

“For the last two decades, I have been blessed to call Whittier my professional home,” she says. “The lawyering skills faculty I have had the good fortune to work with and to learn from are—bar none—the most talented group of teachers in legal education today.”

More photos of the Assessment Conference can be found here

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