Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Robert McCrate began the current movement to reform legal education. Professor Nancy Schultz (Chapman Law School) was kind enough to contribute this memorial.
Bob MacCrate: A Kind and Generous Leader
Bob MacCrate died last week at the age of 94. His many accomplishments included serving as special counsel to the Department of the Army during its investigation of the 1968 My Lai Massacre in South Vietnam, as President of the ABA, and as President of the New York State Bar Association. In legal education circles, we know him as the chair of the ABA Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession, which produced the document known as the MacCrate Report in 1992. According to his obituary in the ABA Journal, Bob considered the MacCrate Report one of his biggest accomplishments.
The MacCrate report strongly encouraged greater attention by law schools to the teaching of the skills and values essential to being a lawyer. This is where I met Bob. Around the time of the MacCrate Report, I was writing an article that ended up being published in the Journal of Legal Education as, “How Do Lawyers Really Think?,” 42 J. Legal Educ. 57 (1992). At the time, I was director of the legal writing program at George Washington. I somehow heard about the MacCrate Report, which had not yet been published, and decided it was a good idea to find Bob MacCrate and talk to him about our mutual interest in recognizing the importance of skills teaching in law school, and the artificiality of the idea that you could teach law students how to think like lawyers without teaching them what lawyers actually do with legal doctrine in the service of their clients.
So we come to the point of why I was so happy that Lou Sirico asked me to write something for the blog. Bob MacCrate could not have been kinder and more generous in his response to being called out of the blue by a young law teacher he had never heard of. We had an animated conversation about our shared interests and our frustration with legal education. He asked to see my article. He read it, and quoted it later.
Not too long after our initial conversation, I was organizing the AALS Annual Meeting program for the Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning and Research. With the publication of the MacCrate Report a hot topic in legal education, I once again contacted Bob and asked if he would participate in a debate. He ended up debating John Costonis, then Dean at Vanderbilt. During the course of the debate, he made reference several times to me and to my article. As I recall, he said something about me being “prescient.” I mention all of this in tribute to a man who, as prominent and accomplished as he was, went out of his way to recognize someone in the early stages of her career in legal education.
If we determine greatness not only by accomplishment, but also by humanity, Bob MacCrate was truly a great man. His positive energy, his intellect, his ability to get enormous tasks done while bringing people together, his warmth, his sense of humor, and his genuine joy in meeting and working with all kinds of people, make him a man who leaves the kind of legacy we should all wish to leave. He will be missed.