Thursday, April 23, 2015
This is the fifth in a series of posts on reform in legal education. Related posts are listed at the bottom of this post.
A few years ago, I was at a conference on national security law, and one of the scholars there, a Navy veteran, suggested that the military had made a wrong turn in entrusting knowledge of the law of armed conflict to JAG officers. As impressed as he was with the commitment of those JAG officers to the rule of law, he thought it would be better if all officers were expected to know the law of armed conflict rather than having a rudimentary introduction to the relevant law but relying on the expertise of JAG officers in the decision-making process. The attendant JAG officers were unanimous in their opposition to this notion, and I'm in no position to judge the merits of the claim, but the idea stuck with me.
I think we have a similar situation in law schools. In the 1980s and 1990s, law schools created legal writing programs, and they hired a legal writing faculty to teach in those programs. Like JAG officers with respect to the law of armed conflict, dedicated legal writing faculty members have thought about legal writing -- and related subject matters such as legal reasoning and legal research -- in different and deeper ways than traditional doctrinal instructors had done or now do. They are our trusty repository of information about how our students think, write and reason and of pedagogical innovations that will help them do better.
It is a problematic model. It creates a hierarchical division of labor within faculties, generating resentments on all sides, and it does not serve our students as well as would an integrated curriculum in which legal writing, reasoning and research were treated as integral to every doctrinal course. Students think that legal writing is a separate subject matter, and they don't all have the instinct to apply the skills, techniques and intellectual habits to which they are exposed in legal writing to their work for doctrinal courses.
One response has been to ask doctrinal courses to incorporate more skills training into doctrinal courses. Another has been to add additional courses and required credits in courses in which students work on legal writing and reasoning skills. To keep with the theme of this series, the result is that traditional legal education gets squeezed. We are asked to do more in less time. I propose we consider doing more in more time by integrating legal writing and reasoning into the traditional doctrinal curriculum and eliminate independent writing programs.
Schools have been very creative in staffing their legal writing programs (involving visiting faculty, contract faculty, adjuncts, VAPs, and tenured and tenure-track faculty in teaching legal writing and research). There likewise could be innumerable models (which would preferably involve integrating current legal writing faculty members into traditional classroom teaching) for integrating teaching doctrine and skills.
Let the innovations begin!
Links to Related Posts:
The Current Series
Related Posts form 2012: