From time to time I write about what I consider to be the deficiencies of law school education. I do not base this on my own experience of so many years ago, and I am sure you are relieved to hear that. Rather, I travel the country speaking at law schools, as I will be doing again in a few weeks at William and Mary Law, and I talk to a lot of students on those occasions about their experiences. In addition, our two children either have experienced law school recently or are experiencing it as I write. So, I hope I have a pretty accurate view of what law school is all about today.
However, as with everything else, I do not trust my conversations and experiences alone. I research everything! In the past, I have shared with you some of the opinions of Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana University Law, a leading proponent of law school reform, and less enthusiastically the writings of Professor Brian Tamanaha of Washington University Law (see Henderson blog and Tamanaha blog). My reluctance about the latter is that too much of what Professor Tamanaha says in his book on the subject of failed law schools seems to impute the failure to the law profession as well. I think that goes too far for the reasons stated in my blog. If that is not what he meant, I think he should state that clearly.
There is a plethora of opinion about law school education today, as you would expect from a profession that is very well-populated and which includes members with strong opinions and desires to share them. Some of the issues debated regularly are the need for three-year programs, the need for more clinical experiences to turn out practice-ready lawyers, the continuing relevance of the Socratic Method of teaching, and the preparedness of the average law student to enter law school directly out of undergraduate school.
I came across an interesting discussion of these issues and others recently in an article in the New Republic. There, six contributors opined on the subject matter, and here is some food for thought as you either contemplate law school, progress through law school, or question how your law alma mater could have served you better:
- Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law, is a proponent of a two-year-plus law education. He does not necessarily advocate less education, but, rather, he advocates education in a variety of forms and settings, specifically using the third year for practice specialization;
- Michael Kinsley, editor-at-large of the New Republic, wants to see the Socratic Method go by way of the dinosaurs as irrelevant to today’s legal practice. For the record, I am in the middle of this debate. I see the value of the Socratic Method in preparing students for the courtroom, but I would like to see other teaching methods, like OJT clinical work, accompany it as equally or more valuable for many students;
- Paul Campos, professor at the University of Colorado Law, attacks the problem at its root and before the law education process begins for many students. He wants to stop unlimited students loans for law school to discourage some students who may not belong there in the first place and to reduce the cost of legal education. Without the capless government loans to feed runaway tuitions, law schools presumably would have to get costs and tuitions under control. As the mother of children with huge and rapidly-accumulating law school loans, I completely identify with this position and am glad to hear it as part of the debate;
- AND more……but you will have to wait until the next post!
What do you think so far? Lawyers are full of opinions, so let’s hear yours.