Thursday, October 24, 2013

Should Law Schools Develop Curiosity in Their Students?

A few days ago, I posted about an open letter from a small-firm practitioner (Carolyn Elefant) to law schools.  (here)  Among her remarks in the letter was the following: "Yet what I can’t fathom or tolerate is the utter lack of curiosity that many (but not all) new grads bring (or don’t bring) to the table when they hit the job market. . . . how can today’s students not be excited about the cornucopia of riches at their fingertips — from free caselaw, free online legal briefs and memos by top attorneys, substantive analytic blogs galore, and an endless stream of news items on Twitter curated by experts in every field?"

A comment to my post replied, "I'm also having a hard time understanding how law schools are directly responsible for their students' lack of curiosity."  This leads me to ask: should law schools develop curiosity in their students?

To begin, I think that the traditional approach to legal education damages students' curiosity.  When I was in law school, our library had a diagram with students' brains before law school and after law school.  On the before law school brain, there was a big chunk for curiosity, but on the after law school brain there was no curiosity left.  I think that the Socratic case/method is largely responsible for this.  The traditional approach to law school teaching does not encourage curiosity.  The traditional approach looks for a particular type of answer, and it discourages creativity.

My answer to the above question is a loud yes.  A large part of being a teacher is developing intellectual curiosity in students, and any teacher that does not do this is a poor teacher.  While I don't believe that anyone can teach someone to be curious, teachers can help their students develop curiosity.  First, we should tell our students why we got into the law--because it was exciting and intellectually challenging.  Students do adopt their teachers as role models.  We should also be enthusiastic while teaching so that our students will know that we are excited about what we are teaching. Share discovery with your students. Discovery produces pleasure. Second, we need an approach to legal education that does more than the Socratic method/case book approach does.  We need to show our students how law is applied to real problems.  Let's face it. Applying the law to real-world situations is much more exciting than just discussing cases.  Third, we need to show how law can affect and change society.  Showing students how they can affect their world engenders curiosity.   Fourth, we should show our students how their learning will help them achieve their life goals.  Ambition creates curiosity. Fifth, redefine failure as learning.  Students fear failing, but failing is an important part of learning. Finally, we need to talk with our students outside of class.  We should ask them about their interests and encourage them to explore the law.  

(Scott Fruehwald)

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Scott: Let me clarify. All academic institutions should seek to encourage intellectual curiosity, but schools are doing more than ever to do that. Unlike the law schools of only 15 years ago, law schools now offer a huge array of clinical opportunities, some addressing cutting edge legal issues. The array of course offerings is greater than ever, with many courses focusing on current trends and changes in specific areas of the law, and hands-on opportunities. There are countless law societies, with many offering opportunities for even first year students to deliver legal services to those in their community. There are moot court competitions focused on a variety of legal issues. There are law libraries that put together amazing collections, and amazing guides to help you explore your area of interest. In my view, professors are more available than ever, pulling students into their research, court work, and writing, and they are trying more varied techniques in the classroom than ever before. Are there boring, uninspiring professors? No doubt. Could we do more? Always. But we are doing better than we did in the past, and at some point it is up to the individual student to step up and engage.

Posted by: CLX | Oct 26, 2013 5:58:09 AM

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