Legal writing professionals have been touting the benefits of peer review in their legal scholarship. Kirsten Davis wrote back in 2003 that “[b]y introducing peer editors into the writing process and allowing students the chance to see how other students approach the same legal problem, however, the peer review experience can teach students writing, editing, and cooperation skills that they can apply in legal practice but that they may not learn through the student-teacher editing cycle.” (Davis, “Designing and Using Peer Review in a First-Year Legal Research and Writing Course,” The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute, Vol. 9, 2003 at 9). Today, the use of peer review/editing is standard in many legal writing programs in the United States. Cassandra Hill’s assessment of its use in law school curricula indicates that peer editing provides more frequent feedback to students, emphasizes collaboration rather than competition, and provides a training ground for future teaching assistants, writing advisers or tutors. (Hill, “Peer Editing: A Comprehensive Pedagogical Approach to Maximize Assessment Opportunities, Integrate Collaborative Learning, and Achieve Desired Outcomes,” Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 11, 2011, at 675-676).
In lawyering and legal writing classrooms, peer review (also known as peer editing) refers to an exercise where students assess each other’s work and give feedback based on select criteria. The feedback is generally given in writing and often uses a grading matrix to evaluate work. Are there other ways that peer review can be incorporated into legal skills and lawyering courses?
Is peer review useful in other contexts outside of legal writing? More specifically, can students critique each other’s oral advocacy?
I have been using verbal peer feedback in my legal advising course for two years. The course teaches students to interview clients, hold internal meetings to discuss legal research and possible courses of action for clients, and deliver advice in a letter to the client. The more obvious way to employ feedback would have been in the letters of advice, something that I require during the students’ final, take-home exam. Nevertheless, I also decided to incorporate moments for review of the client interviews, as well as the internal team meetings. Those reviews are given orally by other students.
How is this done? I will share my tips for using peer feedback during client interviewing.
- Identify the grading criteria
I first let students know what is expected for a successful client interview and/or team meeting. Accordingly, when teaching this portion of the class, I give students the elements of an interview and what must occur. For example, when teaching client interviewing, students must introduce themselves, tell their background and explain the expertise of their law firm. They must also inform the client about confidentiality. Using these elements, the peer feedback will also address whether these elements were easily identified during the interview and whether the interviewer handled the elements in a professional manner.
Students are able to comment on structure, delivery, and content. Therefore, grading criteria can include any and all such elements.
- Student summarizes their own performance before feedback
Secondly, the party who is being critiqued gives their own impressions of their performance, even before the feedback is given. The student tells what s/he thought went well and what didn’t go well. This step allows the student to first reflect on the performance even before hearing what a peer has observed. It also encourages metacognitive awareness of his/her own performance. This type of awareness helps students take responsibility for the quality of their own work product and skill acquisition.
- Critique the peer reviewer’s feedback
A final, extremely valuable part of peer feedback relates to the delivery of the feedback itself. Assess the student giving the feedback on how well they delivered their feedback, looking at criteria such as professional demeanor, delivering criticism with tact, and thoroughly covering all criteria to be evaluated.
During my peer feedback lessons, students view a slide or handout of sample sentences of how to give oral feedback that students can use as models when they are starting out. For example, one sample I like to give relates to positive feed back: “You successfully informed the client that no details of his case will be disclosed to third parties without her prior approval.” I also give an example of how to explain things that did not go so well during the interview. “During the interview, I missed an explanation of the confidential nature of what was being discussed.”
Often, the best feedback is when you can repeat back what a person did or said then tell how it met or did not meet the criteria. For instance, “When you told Mrs. X that you would need to have her written permission to discuss her case with and request files from her general practitioner, you were letting her know that your communication is confidential and cannot be discussed with third parties without express consent.” By giving model sentences to students in advance, you can provide for a respectful feedback experience for all. In addition, if you work with students that are English language learners, the prompts assist them to correctly formulate and phrase their comments.
Like peer editing, peer feedback for oral advocacy can provide immediate assessments to students, allow students to critically reflect on their own performance and give space to students to become more proficient in the delivery of peer reviews and comments. Instructors will also find this useful when time or class size does not permit individual feedback.
Do you use peer editing or feedback in your company, firm or school? If so, tell me your experiences in the comments.