Saturday, July 11, 2015

"The New Law School: Teaching Students to Practice Like Lawyers"

A new book coming by Professor Adam Lamparello  and Charles E. MacLean (both Indiana Tech) from LexisNexis but available now for download on SSRN here. From the abstract:

The twenty-first century has ushered in a new era for legal education. Rapid advances in technology, a decline in law school applicants, and outsourcing at law firms has changed the way law is practiced and legal services are delivered. Members of the bench and bar have criticized law graduates for lacking the essential skills needed to practice law, and clients are refusing to pay for hours billed by new associates. To make matters worse, graduates are no longer entering a profession where employment opportunities are plentiful and on-the-job training is provided.


In response, law schools across the United States have been forced to re-examine their programs of legal education. Some have made fundamental curricular changes and vowed to produce “practice ready” graduates who can competently practice law from the outset of their careers. In fact, the most common phrase that reverberates throughout the legal academy – the new “it” factor in legal education – is “experiential learning.” Indeed, law schools are almost tripping over themselves to claim that they are more “experiential” than others. Ironically, as law schools have boasted about their practice-ready curriculums and touted their clinical offerings, externship placements, and simulation courses, the criticism of graduates’ practice readiness has increased, not decreased.


The problem is that few law schools have defined what experiential learning means, and hardly any are being “experiential” in the way that will actually produce practice-ready graduates. More clinics, externships, and simulations are beneficial, but the truth is that they will not make students “practice ready” in a meaningful sense because law schools continue to ignore the core problem with legal education: the curriculum does not devote sufficient time or credits to developing outstanding legal writers. Make no mistake: legal writing is the most important skill that lawyers need to practice law competently, and is the essence of what it means to be experiential. Indeed, the criticism that lawyers and judges hurl at new graduates is not because students have not participated in enough oral arguments or simulated depositions. It is because many graduates cannot write persuasively in a variety of real world contexts. In fact, many have never even seen the documents they will encounter in law practice, much less actually drafted, for example, a motion to dismiss or a set of interrogatories.


Thus, law schools that do not adequately focus on developing outstanding legal writers are not experiential, no matter how many clinics or field placements they offer. Currently, law schools are failing in this regard, and offering, on average, less than six credits of required legal writing. Experiential Legal Writing: The New Approach to Practicing Like a Lawyer, proposes a groundbreaking curriculum that trains students to think, write, and practice like lawyers.


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