The Three Rs of Legal Education

3958292728_5044652bf6_mCan we all agree that legal education – as it currently stands – is deeply flawed?

If you haven’t been paying attention, law schools are currently graduating students that are unprepared for legal practice, unable to find gainful employment due to a shortage of jobs and yet somehow 80% of the population that needs legal assistance goes without the benefit of legal counsel.

If those aren’t indications deep systematic flaws, then I don’t know what would meet that definition.

I keep a running list of things I would change on the off chance I was ever given the opportunity to run a law school.  I mean, I realize I have a better chance of winning the Powerball or marrying George Clooney than this ever happening, but hey – a girl can dream!  They run the gamut from required courses to clinic enhancement to status and activities of faculty to curricular reform.  I think everyone in the legal education business has opinions on how they would change those as well.

The change I want to discuss here is in the actual pedagogy of legal education.  Specifically, the Langdellian case method of learning law.

This is a ridiculous way of teaching the law.

I get the reasoning behind it.  When law students become practicing attorneys, they will be reading cases, deducing the law and applying them to the facts of their situations.  However, at that point in time, they will have an understanding of the law and be able to find the nuances.   As law students, as we say back home, they still don’t know shit from apple butter.  What the casebook method really does is the equivalent of throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of a swimming pool and expect them to master the butterfly stroke.

But as a practical matter, all this has done is create a multimillion dollar industry in selling black letter law supplements to law students that are not groking the law from the cases.

I submit to you, Dear Reader, that there are three fundamental skills that law students need to grasp and then master (or at least be able to stumble their way through) before even getting to the point of attempting to understand and apply legal concepts.  My Three Rs of Legal Education are:

  • Research
  • Writing
  • Reading

Research and writing are already taught, although not nearly to the extent that I would like to see.  Not even close to the extent that I would like to see.  But reading?  Maybe it’s given a mention in orientation courses (assuming the law school has one) or in Academic Success Programs (assuming the students are selected to participate), but for the most part the critical skill of reading cases and determining intent of judges is conflated with understanding what the law is.

So why not teach the law as the law?  At least for the some of the introductory courses that form the bedrock of a legal education – Constitutional law, Civil Procedure, Evidence, Contracts, Criminal Law, Torts.  Give students a knowledge base AND the skills to apply them before requiring them to combine the two.

Is that such a crazy idea?


Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc


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