Friday, January 11, 2013

Judge Kane on Law Schools: A Reply

You have probably seen Judge John Kane's letter criticizing law schools (here; I am using this version because the blog editor's comments are worth reading).  While there is much to agree with in Judge Kane's letter, I think he has confused the intent of the legal education reform movement, which he calls "pragmatism" or "practice ready."

In his last paragraph he declares:

 "Law schools claim that pragmatism is the only way to address fierce competition.  To what end?  Making graduates 'practice ready' is an illusion, which is not only impossible to achieve, but in fact detrimental to the life and career of the student.  The goal should be to produce young lawyers who, as Thomas Wolfe described writers attending workshops, are 'ready to commence to begin to start' to learn, through a lifetime of practice, the art and craft of guiding others to safe passage through the extremities of experience, to achieve socially appropriate goals, and to insist on leading ethical lives.  It is not to produce yet another cadre of cynical shysters grasping for more fees or a legion of those who flee the profession in despair. "

Judge Kane's view of the legal education reform movement as expressed in the above paragraph is incomplete.  In fact, the movement agrees with Judge Kane's aspirations by stressing the need for law schools to produce graduates who are "self-regulated" learners and who have developed their professional identities.

Based on scholarship written by education scholars, legal reform scholars have emphasized that law schools need to produce self-regulated learners.  (E.g., here, here, here)  Self-regulated learners are life-long learners.  They "are intrinsically motivated, self-directing, self-monitoring, and self-evaluating." (here)  They know themselves, and they are inquisitive, open to new ideas, and take risks.  Most importantly, self-regulated learners have learning strategies, and they focus on the mastery of learning.

The legal education reform movement has also stressed the need to teach professionalism and professional identity to law students.  The Carnegie Report designated three apprenticeships for educating today's law students, including the "apprenticeship of identity and purpose," which "introduces students to the purposes and attitudes that are guided by the values for which the professional community is responsible."  (Carnegie Report at 28).  Scholars have emphasized that this apprenticeship includes not only learning the rules of professional conduct, but also helping students develop their professional identity. (here, here)  I have previously described professional identity: "This apprenticeship involves more than teaching students the rules of legal ethics.  It is intended to inculcate law students with the characteristics of professional identity.  In other words, law schools should teach students what it is like to be a lawyer, including their ethical duties to their clients, the courts, and the public."  (here)  I have also advocated teaching ethics across the curriculum because it is much more effective to learn the ethical rules in connection with the corresponding doctrine. (here)  The Carolina Academic Press: Context and Practice Casebook Series does this with "Professional Development Reflection Questions" at the end of each chapter.  Finally, Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers recently had a conference on teaching professional identity (here).

In sum, the legal education reform movement is already advocating what Judge Kane aspires to in his letter.  While, unfortunately, these reforms have only been adopted at a few law schools, the legal education reform movement is advocating that they be adopted at all law schools.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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