Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Practical Training & the "Gap" - Redux

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Austen Parrish (right, Southwestern, which has the coolest faculty pictures) has a take over atParrish PrawfsBlawg on the apparent divergence between the desire, on one hand, for more practical training of lawyers ("doing a better job in law school to prepare lawyers to practice") versus, on the other hand, the theoretical trend in scholarship and academic hiring.

Maybe I'm just feeling persnickety (not about Austen's post, just the subject) after three weeks of extremely practical activity, like settling into a new office, changing my driver's license, getting my cars re-registered, hanging pictures, installing Elfa shelves in the closets, putting up shades, prepping for a new class, and getting residential parking permits (hence my absence from the blog for all intents and cliches), but I think we understand the problem, and the answer is:  IT WILL NEVER BE SOLVED!

That is, however, not a cry of hopelessness; indeed, I think there is more hopelessness that springs from thinking that problems of polarities are solvable rather than manageable.  And they are manageable.  I recommend a neat little book entitled Polarity Management:  Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, by Barry Johnson.  Here is the thesis.  Whenever we want an institution or an organization to satisfy two mutual interdependent but polar values (think individual initiative versus teamwork; teaching versus scholarship; planning versus action; stability versus change), we can't solve the problem to one pole or the other because we will get not only the good things about that poles but the bad things as well.  Organizations have a natural tendency to react to the negative aspects of one pole by shifting to the other.  But now we are conscious of that tendency and work to restrain the negative aspects of movement to the other pole.

In short, there's no silver bullet.  Law schools, for the foreseeable future, are going to have to work the polarities between theory and practice, between teaching and scholarship, between inside and outside, without the debilitating illusion that there is some kind of algorithmic solution out there somewhere just waiting to be discovered.  And where better than in an academic institution, when you realize you can't get an answer, merely always to be living the question?

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Very nice. Americans have long been possessed, for better and worse, of a certain sort of hubris and temerity that, first, characterizes much of the known universe under the heading of "a problem," and then, proceeding on the assumption that such problems are amenable to solutions, energetically and confidently endeavors to fix them, thereby only creating a different sort of problem, ad infinitum. Your take on the matter (and I haven't read that book) undoubtedly has wider relevance.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Sep 5, 2007 6:02:22 AM

I always thought, especially at public law schools, that service was also a part of our profession. True, it's often not rewarded (or even recognized as good) but should it not still be included as another duty vying for our time?

Posted by: jp | Sep 5, 2007 5:52:03 PM

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