Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Our friend Nancy Rapoport (UNLV, below), former dean of the law schools at Houston and Nebraska (and Ohio State Buckeye fan, but we won't hold that against her), when she's not winning dance competitions, has some ideas about changing the template in most law schools: Changing the Modal Law School: Rethinking U.S. Legal Education in (Most) Schools. Here's the abstract:
This essay argues that discussions of educational reform in U.S. law schools have suffered from a fundamental misconception: that the education provided in all of the American Bar Association-accredited schools is roughly the same. A better description of the educational opportunities provided by ABA-accredited law schools would group theschools into three rough clusters: the “elite” law schools, the modal (most frequently occurring) law schools, and the precarious law schools. Because the elite law schools do not need much “reforming,” the better focus of reform would concentrate on the modal and precarious schools; however, both elite and modal law schools could benefit from some changes to help law students move from understanding the theoretical underpinnings of law to understanding how to translate those underpinnings into practice. “Practice” itself is a complex concept, requiring both an understanding of the law and an understanding of how to relate well to others. Because law students may not understand how to relate well to those with different backgrounds from their own, law schools should do more to explain how one’s perspective is both limiting and mutable. Too many law schools suggest that students can “see” different perspectives by, essentially, merely thinking harder. The essay concludes with some suggestions regarding possible reforms of U.S. legal education, focusing primarily on the modal law schools.
Interestingly, one theme in Nancy's piece is that students don't get those contextual and non-legal skills from their undergraduate liberal arts education. Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice either disagrees or doesn't think it matters to a lawyer, judging by an interesting reaction to my post on the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of law practice. And coming from the standpoint of doing "New York criminal defense," he may well be right. I'd agree that there is a segment of the law - mainly litigation, and particularly criminal litigation - that doesn't need to see a whole lot of change in the doctrinal approach, and would benefit from students' intense and relatively narrow exposure toclinics or other intern-like experiences. But that's looking at the legal profession and its place in the rest of the - sorry, Scott - increasingly interdisciplinary world through the wrong end of the telescope. I don't expect anybody to buy it merely on my authority (a wobbly stool to be sure), but I spent 26 years out there in the real world as a real lawyer. It's that experience, not academic theorizing, that's the basis for the conclusion that Nancy's assessment is likely correct, and that more and more of what the vast majority of lawyers is going to be doing sits in the overlap of that Venn diagram.