Monday, March 26, 2012

Dean Chemerinsky on Legal Education

Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of University of California, Irvine School of Law, argues that "Law schools can do a much better job of training lawyers" in Rethinking Legal Education.  He notes, "Change is long overdue. Legal education has changed remarkably little in over a century."

He thinks, "The most important change that is needed in law school is to ensure that every student has a clinical experience or the equivalent."  He adds: " Meaningful reform requires that law schools do far more to emulate the way medical schools train doctors" with their emphasis on clinical education.  In contrast, "Most law students have limited exposure to the practice of law during law school."

He argues: "I believe that it is long overdue for law schools to do more to emphasize experiential education. For example, my goal is that at the new University of California, Irvine School of Law, every student will participate in a law school clinic or have the equivalent experience, such as through a carefully selected externship."  Also, in clinics, "there is an opportunity for training about professionalism that comes when students have their own clients whom they must represent."

He remarks, "The ideal, as the Carnegie report urges, is for students to have some experiential learning in each of their three years."  He asks, " Most first-year legal writing classes conclude with an appellate brief and argument. Why? Why not have students argue a motion to dismiss or a summary judgment motion, something more likely to be seen by a larger number of students in their early years of practice?" Similarly, "Upper-level classes can also incorporate experiential learning."

He also thinks that students need more feedback.  He points out, "In the majority of law school courses, a student’s grade is based on one evaluation, a final examination at the end of the semester, where the student receives just a grade with no other feedback. This is impossible to justify from a pedagogical perspective."

Finally, he discusses the "Langdellian Bargain, "This all seems so obvious, but the reality is that changing institutions is difficult and clinical education is expensive. Many law faculties would rather hire additional professors than invest in clinical faculty and programs. But, there is no way to reform legal education in any meaningful way without giving law students far more experience in the practice of law." The problem is that it is "very cost-effective to have one teacher in front of a large number of students. Some law schools generate significant profits for their universities." In addition, "Unfortunately, such an emphasis on skills training is often thought to be the opposite of teaching theory and interdisciplinary perspectives. This is a false dichotomy that law schools should emphatically reject."

(Scott Fruehwald)

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