November 27, 2008
Bainbridge on Twenty Years of Law Teaching
Professor Steven Bainbridge's article, Reflections on Twenty Years of Law Teaching can be accessed here. I have always been a "soft socratic" teacher, as Prof. Bainbridge describes it, and will remain so. Bainbridge discusses whether law school teaches students how to think like lawyers. I have no doubt about it. Even the most inattentive students who spend the minimum amount of time studying (usually at the end of the semester as panic sets in) learn the basic rules on the subject and can spew them back on the test. But ask the student in class whether or not the federal court will have jurisdiction if I sue my former client who lives in Florida, their eyes glaze over, they panic trying to find those rules on their laptop while I am waiting for some analysis. The rules on personal jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction and venue, which I have spent hours discussing, become a jumbled mess when finally put into a very simple fact hypothetical. A big part of that is a lack of effort, but a big part is that students have difficulty thinking like a lawyer. It is something that is learned. I tell my students to stop thinking like a law student and start thinking like a lawyer. A law student searches for "issues," usually as many as possible, or at least as many as there are rules that they remember. A lawyer trys to solve Joe's problem, the guy sitting in his office spewing out facts in random order, which must be assimilated into the rules, and a conclusion reached and advice given to help Joe solve his problem. Ah! IRAC. It works.
Having said all of that, I am mindful that professors these days are using power point more and posting recordings on blogs or school websites and assigning cases to students in advance and various other "new" teaching strategies. I'm working to learn and use these; the goal really is to prepare interested and motivated persons to become lawyers. It is a goal I enjoy.
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