Monday, June 29, 2009

A Comment on Law School 4.0

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

An op-ed by Paul Lippe (no relation) at the Am Law Daily on what law schools ought to do to cure THE PROBLEM has gotten a fair amount of buzz in the blogosphere, including from our own Bill Henderson

Here's my quick reaction:

1.  The descriptions of Phases I to III (reading law; Langellian case method; "law and ...") seem accurate to me.

2. This statement strikes me as a relatively fair generalization:

Even in 1981, when I went to law school, the faculty generally held law firms in low regard, and clients were presumed unethical without the constant guidance of lawyers (when I spoke to a law school dean the other day, she immediately equated client with "Enron"). It's nuts for law school to be primarily about understanding appellate decision making and not at all about understanding clients.

This is particularly the case when discussing the politically-infused area of corporate governance. I still marvel at individuals in various institutions (academia, Congress, state governors, corporations) who have no compunction about calling the motives of other individuals in other institutions into question (i.e. conflicted, greedy, short-sighted, etc.) without stepping back and looking at their own.  For example, I'm still not convinced that faculty governance has any moral superiority over corporate governance, and clearly Governor Sanford's recent escapade tarnishes the purity of the bully political pulpit. I'm willing to accept a middle ground, which is that none of us embodies an Archimedean moral fulcrum.  Or to quote Robert Burns:  "O wad som' pow'r the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us."

3.  Mr. Lippe says:

-A much more empirical approach to practice, forcing much deeper inquiry, rather than just trotting out hypotheticals and issue-spotting--e.g., if choosing AAA arbitration is the right dispute resolution clause, do we know that a higher percentage of deals with no arbitration clause ended in a contentious dispute?

This statement strikes me as not fully thought out, but certainly an area in which inquiring minds ought to be engaged (I try to be, as evidenced in this recent piece about legal "cures" to social problems).  First, I'm not sure we've fully probed the empirical foundations of statements of this sort enough to use them as the basis for advice. You have a rare form of cancer. Overall, the cure rate with the best treatment is 20%. We can at least make some fairly reliable predictions as a result of natural science, to get at real cause-and-effect. As a general matter, that's far more challenging when we draw social science conclusions.  Second, the analogy to medicine highlights the issue. Is the information a helpful piece of data in deciding whether to take the treatment?  My son, Matthew, starts med school in six weeks, with a beginning unit that touches on evidence-based medicine.  My guess is that data is helpful, but not ultimately dispositive, in making forward-looking judgments about care.

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