May 11, 2012
Rapoport Has Been Rethinking Legal Education for "(Most) Schools"
Two-time law school dean (Houston and Nebraska) and currently a UNLV law prof, Nancy Rapoport uploaded Changing the Modal Law School: Rethinking U.S. Legal Education in (Most) Schools, 116 Penn. St. L. Rev. 1119 (2012), to SSRN. Here's the abstract:
This essay argues that discussions of educational reform in U.S. law schools have suffered from a fundamental misconception: that the education provided in all of the American Bar Association-accredited schools is roughly the same. A better description of the educational opportunities provided by ABA-accredited law schools would group the schools into three rough clusters: the “elite” law schools, the modal (most frequently occurring) law schools, and the precarious law schools. Because the elite law schools do not need much “reforming,” the better focus of reform would concentrate on the modal and precarious schools; however, both elite and modal law schools could benefit from some changes to help law students move from understanding the theoretical underpinnings of law to understanding how to translate those underpinnings into practice. “Practice” itself is a complex concept, requiring both an understanding of the law and an understanding of how to relate well to others. Because law students may not understand how to relate well to those with different backgrounds from their own, law schools should do more to explain how one’s perspective is both limiting and mutable. Too many law schools suggest that students can “see” different perspectives by, essentially, merely thinking harder. The essay concludes with some suggestions regarding possible reforms of U.S. legal education, focusing primarily on the modal law schools.
On The Legal Whiteboard, Jeff Lipshaw offers the follow comment:
Interestingly, one theme in Nancy's piece is that students don't get those contextual and non-legal skills from their undergraduate liberal arts education. Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice either disagrees or doesn't think it matters to a lawyer, judging by an interesting reaction to my post on the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of law practice.
Frankly, one has to wonder when rethinking will be replaced with reforming "(most)" of the legal academy. If professorial "talk therapy" doesn't lead to institutional corrective behavior, what's the point? There are plenty of good ideas "out there" that don't require all law schools to accept. Experimenting in baby step fashion, perhaps by some law school requiring additonal courses at the 2L and 3L level, just might be a good laboratory for testing some curricular reform proposals incrementally. I'm thinking well-meaning reform-minded law profs just might to touch base with their College of Education profs for some expert help. [JH]