Saturday, April 9, 2011

Legal skills and a hit Broadway musical

In today’s New York Times, Samuel Freedman, who writes the paper’s “On Religion” column, reviews “The Book of Mormon,” the new hit Broadway musical from the perpetually irreverent minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of the perpetually icon-eviscerating “South Park”) in collaboration with Robert Lopez (of the Broadway musical “Avenue Q”). The musical focuses on two young Mormons on their missions in Africa. Lopez described the protagonists: “They’re 19, coming from a sheltered and naïve place, being sent into the real world. . . .” Freedman offers this take on the show:
In its wiggy way, “The Book of Mormon” also depicts the faith crisis that strikes missionaries when their theological commonplaces prove irrelevant to the problems at hand: civil war, AIDS, poverty, genital disfigurement of women. Elder Price’s partner, Elder Cunningham, winds up improvising a version of Mormon text that addresses the issues, and, coincidentally, leads a visiting Mormon supervisor to fire him.
As I read the review, a similarity between law students and the Mormon missionaries popped into view. Law school often functions as “a sheltered and naïve place” that typically sends its graduates into the real world of law practice. Law schools, however, do not provide the kind of wide-ranging confrontation with reality afforded by the missions. Clinical programs and summer clerkships can provide sort-of encounters with reality, but even those experiences usually provide only limited and sheltered encounters. Freedman’s review raised for me the question of how law schools can improve the quality of students’ encounters with the reality of being a lawyer, and how to do that in a timely fashion so law students can, before having invested three years of their lives and accumulated piles of debt, test their faith in the professional path they’ve chosen.

Samuel G. Freedman, "Loopy and Profound, Show Tells the Drama of Missionaries’ Work," N.Y. Times, April 9, 2011, p. A16 (national edition).


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