Monday, July 9, 2018
Professor Deborah Merritt is writing several posts on how law schools teach first-year law students. As I mentioned last week, she is very critical of the case method.
Her second post (here) is on Quimbee, an online service that contains an extensive database of canned case briefs for law students.
Professor Merritt notes that many law students probably use Quimbee's canned briefs. This is frightening to me. Case analysis is a cognitive fundamental for lawyers. If students take a short cut by using canned briefs, they will not be able to do more complicated skills effectively.
She writes, "But case reading is not an all-or-nothing skill. It is like playing an instrument: you get better if you practice. Students who read judicial opinions throughout law school almost certainly read opinions more effectively than those who rely upon Quimbee."
She adds, "Even more worrisome, case briefs and other study aids shortcut the critical thinking skills that the case method was designed to teach. It’s much harder to read a judicial opinion than a case brief–and that’s the point. Law schools have relied on the case method to teach students careful, critical reading; analogical reasoning; and the recognition of patterns that lurk below a court’s language. Students learn some of those skills by reading case briefs and following class discussion, but they don’t sharpen those skills as much as professors believe."
Who is to blame for this? "It’s easy to blame “lazy” students or “profit-hungry” publishers for this state of affairs, but the fault lies with legal educators. We’ve rarely tested students in a way that rewards actual case analysis. Nor have we kept up with the times."
I will continue to comment on Professor Merritt's posts as she posts new ones.