December 9, 2011
Let's Start with Basic Skills: Teaching Law Students Reading and Reasoning Skills
Obviously there has been much more change-talk than action in improving the legal academy curriculum. Perhaps that is because the legal academy is a bit befuddled about where to start. Even if we accept the premise that law schools try to teach students to "think like lawyers" (instead of to "practice like lawyers") the profession is still an intellectual activity that must teach law students reading and reasoning skills as fundamental to research and communication skills by way of work product, client relations, and court room advocacy.
In Scott Fruehwald's recent Legal Skills Prof Blog post, he calls attention to Dorothy Evensen, James Stratman, Laurel Oates, and Sarah Zappe, Developing an Assessment of First-Year Students' Critical Case Reading and Reasoning Abilities: Phase 2 (LSAC 2008) as demonstrating that the legal academy isn't doing it's job of teaching law students to think like lawyers because students aren't acquiring the law-centric reading and reasoning skills they need.
In Do We Need to Change Our Teaching Methods? Fruehwald writes
To follow the nuances of this report, you will need to read it in detail, which I recommend that everyone who is interested in the future of legal education should do. In any case, it demonstrates that we cannot say that our traditional methods of law teaching are working, and we need to develop and use new methods to teach basic skills.
Highly recommended. Those of us who have been in the legal research instruction "business" for sometime know that you really can't provide a meanful education in how to conduct legal research until students know how to read and reason in a lawyerly manner. Anyone who thinks the tool box approach to teaching legal research a/k/a as the presentation of legal bibliography is good enough, should be tarred and feathered. I'm certainly in favor of this medieval act of retribution and disgrace for acadmic law librarian and legal research instructors at this stage in the 21st century; if they are only given enough class time to teach this way, "just say no."
Hell, let's extend the whole tar and feather thning to everyone in the legal academy who just continues to engage in "change-talk" without doing something about it. This has been talked to death. Time to move forward. [JH}
I am amazed how schools brazenly break up teaching how to research the law without then showing how to apply their research (i.e. writing/analysis). It is probably for this reason that 1-3 year lawyers are not permitted to work on anything more than pro bono cases in the mid to large law firms because it takes them 1-3 years to learn those skills (which they should have learned in law school). Also wonder why graduates of law school don't file suit against their respective law school for taking their money (upwards of $1K a unit) and then not teaching them the basics of legal research/analysis which they need to be employable). Actually, I should be thanking said law schools because they help make me look more relevant having to then teach these skills to new lawyers after they pass the bar and enter real-life law. So, thank-you and keep up the "good" work.
Posted by: Bret | Dec 13, 2011 11:34:58 AM
So un-tenured academic law librarians who teach legal research should "just say no" if they aren't given enough time to teach something beyond legal bibliography. We can expect that to result, at best, in the further irrelevance of law school librarians or, at worst, a bunch more law school librarians on the unemployment rolls. Meanwhile, research instruction at schools where it was previously taught (perhaps poorly) by law librarians will now be "taught" by legal writing instructors. They do that at my school, and 1l research instruction here consists of 5 library exercises guided by teaching assistants and basic vendor training in WL & Lexis. Yep, that'll help. Brilliant.
Posted by: Anon | Dec 11, 2011 12:21:25 PM
As I mention in a follow up post at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2011/12/improving-legal-education-by-improving-casebooks.html, the key to change in legal education is the development of new casebooks and other materials that help us teach these skills. I will be discussing some of these new materials on the Legal Skills Prof Blog over the next few weeks.
Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Dec 9, 2011 9:28:23 AM