Tuesday, November 22, 2011
The New York Times' latest anti law school piece, What They Don't Teach Law Students: Lawyering, has ignited a cross-discipline discussion about how to best train young lawyers. As the dust settles over the blogosphere, I thought I would summarize the action here for those who haven't been following it live. The gist of the NYT article is that law students spend all of their time studying abstract and arcane theory rather than practical skills. The article goes on to criticize the role of traditional legal scholarship in the contemporary academy. The piece's author, David Segal, summarizes the modern legal education:
[Law students] have each spent three years and as much as $150,000 for a legal degree. What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training. Law schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful, with classes that are often overstuffed with antiquated distinctions, like the variety of property law in post-feudal England. Professors are rewarded for chin-stroking scholarship, like law review articles with titles like 'A Future Foretold: Neo-Aristotelian Praise of Postmodern Legal Theory.'
Over at the Legal Skills Prof Blog, Scott Fruewald, responded by acknowledging that progress still needs to be made:
Despite the efforts of the Carnegie Report, Best Practices, LWI, ALWD, etc., there has been and will continue to be resistance to change, both by law professors and students. Since we need to make changes in all law school classes, all professors will have to change their teaching methods, but I think a lot of this can be accomplished by a new type of casebook--a casebook that includes cases, skills exercises, drafting exercises, and practical problems...Of course, we have to also convince our students to take these courses. While such courses might require more work on the students' part, they should also be more interesting.
Prawfsblog, meanwhile, has had several posts (here, here, and here) responding to the criticism of legal scholarship in the NYT piece. Michael Hefland makes the interesting point that while some law review articles are arcane, the purported victims of the cost of worthless scholarship are the very individuals who select it for publication in the first place: students.
And while many law profs bemoan the submission process, it seems worth noting that students are the ones who select the articles. So it seems fair to say that, at least to some degree (professors may very well shape what their students consider good scholarship), students play a major role in the type of scholarship that law schools reward.
And the listerves are buzzing with responses to the NYT article. While I won't breach listserve etiquette by quoting or naming anyone, the responses comprise a few basic arguments. First, law schools are doing a much better job of skills education than they did years ago. Second, legal writing professors have played a major role in advancing skills in contemporary legal education (although they get no credit for having done so in the NYT article). Third, doctrinal knowledge is critical to understanding the arguments that you would make using skills developed in skills classes. Fourth, the legal reasoning taught in traditional doctrinal classes is critical in forming young legal minds.
Many are dissatisfied with inaccuracies and incompleteness in the NYT article, but the debate the article has provoked is interesting and necessary.