Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Nature of the Property Curriculum

Joanne Martin recently published "The Nature of the Property Curriculum in ABA-Approved Schools and its Place in Real Estate Practice" in the Real Property, Trust, and Estate Law Journal.  The author surveys law professors and practicing attorneys, and provides an empirical analysis of law schools' approach to the first-year property course and the course's relevance to attorneys' practice experiences.  The article as a whole is a fascinating birds-eye view of the state of property law in legal education. 

Some interesting excerpts:

  • "...the Property course as taught in the top 20 law schools is most likely to be a four-credit-hour course, and the Property course as taught in 4th tier schools is most likely to be a six-credit-hour course." (392)

  • "The most notable decreases in frequency of coverage as the number of course hours declines involve ... real estate conveyancing, real estate financing, and real estate recording." (393)

  • And my read from a few of the many tables of data: law school professors are much more likely to include some coverage of land use regulation in the first year property course than real estate transactions.

How well law schools prepare students for practice is, of course, the subject of much debate inside and outside of the academy.  Certainly many practicing lawyers would criticize the lack of "readiness" of new lawyers to perform legal tasks like preparing a real estate contract, drafting a deed, or understanding real estate finance.  The article confirms this view in its survey of practicing lawyers.  For me, as a law professor, Including land use material in the first year property course allows me to apply much of the theory of the property course to concrete issues.  It is more likely, however, that my students will prepare a real estate contract than be engaged in a historic preservation dispute in their practice.  I have the luxury of teaching a five or six credit property course so I do not have to make many hard decisions about what topics to cut.  From the author's surveys, it seems that the real estate transactions material is the first to go for many courses.

Ngai Pindell

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