Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dean David Levi's Response to the New York Times

Neil Siegel

I have read with great interest the several recent posts responding to a news article and an editorial in the New York Times on the state of legal education in America. Dean David Levi of Duke Law School recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Times on this subject, which the paper did not print. He has given me permission to post it here:
David Segal’s article, “Law Schools That Teach Little About Legal Practice,” addresses an important topic but misses the mark at least as it purports to describe the top schools. After 25 years as a prosecutor and a United States District Judge, I came to Duke Law School in 2007 as dean. I was astonished by the breadth and depth of the curriculum. Since I graduated from law school in 1980, the best law schools have hugely extended their curricula to provide a broad range of experiential, professional skills education as well as to address the complexity of modern legal problems, problems whose solutions often call for an understanding of other fields like economics or finance, or require understanding of other legal systems. Law schools now provide multiple opportunities to their students to represent real clients, draft contracts, appear in court, prepare motions, and settle cases. They offer courses on negotiation, “deals skills,” the business of law practice, international arbitration, and electronic discovery. Courses like these provide an introduction to law practice and are highly motivating for many students; they cannot, and are not intended to, substitute for the skills training and mentoring that the best law firms and government offices must continue to provide to new lawyers.

Just as law practice has changed, so have the law schools. The law school of today is not the law school of The Paper Chase or of Christopher Langdell. But some things have not changed, and we should be glad of it. The faculties of the top schools include leading scholars whose work engages with some of the most important legal problems facing the country and the world, from human rights to regulation of the financial markets, from constitutional interpretation to corporate criminal liability. It is still one of the finest educations in careful and precise thinking, writing, and speaking that can be found anywhere. And it is still a place where some of America’s finest young men and women receive a traditional education in law that prepares them for leadership of a profession and a nation.

David F. Levi
Dean and Professor of Law
Duke University School of Law

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