Monday, April 15, 2013

Should Law Schools Focus on Teaching “Skills Competencies”?

My school, like many others, is focusing on teaching skills and evaluating the curriculum in terms of skills competencies. Recently, however, I have spoken with a number of practicing lawyers who take a different view. Let me paraphrase and consolidate what I have heard:

They will learn how to practice after they graduate. They really can’t learn about the practice in law school. They should take the hard courses like antitrust. They’ll learn how to practice law when they graduate.

I already can hear the protests from those of us in the academy. Still, I can’t discount what I hear from prominent practitioners. Are we missing something?


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This is not a binary "either/or" question, in my view. I do not think we can teach law students in any comprehensive way "how to practice law." The practice of law is highly contextual, even within a particular practice area.

But I do think we can link theory, policy, and doctrine (which we should be teaching in law school) to practical legal and law-related skills in a way that makes students more ready to enter practice. In other words, we can set a foundation for practice that includes practical skills used in applied legal contexts. I often tell my students in experiential learning courses or exercises that my instructions and suggestions on how to execute lawyering tasks represent my way of doing things, and if their supervisor in the workplace tells them to do things differently, they should flush what I say and do what the supervisor asks (as long as it is not unlawful or unethical).

Posted by: Joan Heminway | Apr 16, 2013 1:41:34 PM

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