Friday, November 25, 2011
Reforming legal education
The New York Times has an editorial in tomorrow's (Saturday, Nov. 26) paper on reforming legal education. The key sentences, I think, are the following:
A quick comment.
I went to Harvard Law School.
For fun, I am taking a Business Law class at a local community college that focuses mostly on contracts.
In my opinion, the community college class is actually much more efficient at transmitting knowledge than my contracts class at Harvard. The professor is a retired lawyer, and is constantly illustrating concepts with reference to cases he himself took on. The textbook does not revolve around cases; rather, cases supplement the concepts explained in the textbook.
I think that the so-called Socratic method which revolves around cases is simply inefficient. It makes concepts that actually are not that difficult seem more mysterious than they really are.
One reform would be to simply teach the basic curriculum in a more efficient manner. Then introductory courses would have time for a practical component. For example, then there would be time for the first part of a course on contracts to focus on substance while the second part focused on practice. Then when a student graduated, they would know more about how to actually draft and litigate a contract than they end up typically having now. It is great knowing the substance of contract law. But it takes that knowledge to another level entirely to feel more confident applying that knowledge.
I don't think legal education is as bad as some make it out to be. But I am certain it could be improved. I think the Socratic method is just too slow. Especially in a world where the quantity and complexity of law has vastly increased. By transmitting substantive ideas faster, introductory courses would be able to include a practical component.
The justification for the Socrative Method is often to teach students to think like a lawyer. But what better way to teach someone to think like a lawyer than adding a small practical component to the introductory curriculum? There is no need to slow down the teaching of the basic substance of the law so much by making it also all about how to think like a lawyer. That would better done in the practical component of a class anyway.
I completely agree with Mr. Welker about the need to teach the practice of law to a far greater degree. For example, our law school had three property classes, one of which taught the property rights of slaveholders for over a week and the other asked the rhetorical question who owned the moon in its final. None of them actually taught the practice of property law as I had to learn it after graduating.
I would take this proposal one step further and make law a five year undergraduate degree. There is absolutely no reason to obtain an undergraduate degree before even starting the study of law.
Finally, I am pleased to agree with Sandy's rather libertarian concluding proposal to break the ABA's monopoly on a legal education.
How about a certification program for defending OUI cases? It is difficult imagining that one would go through the travails and expense of college and law school only to end up "specializing" in OUI cases. So let's break up that monopoly. I'll drink to that! But expect these OUI specialists to complain just as law school faculty members for the most part in lock step complain about complaints of inadequate law school training of students for the practice of law. The theme of such faculty complaints boils down to "Don't tread on me."
You leave out one part of the "monopoly" that would have to be addressed. And it is one that is left out of 99% of the conversations about reform of law schools and the practice of law:
the State Bars.
They hold the keys to the licenses to practice law. It's not just about the ABA and law schools. The State Bars determine what is required of someone before they can do all the things you list in the last paragraph.
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