It’s the Pedagogy, Stupid.

IMG_0128Criticizing law schools and legal education is easy.  The curriculum, the expense, the fudged employment numbers, the value of legal scholarship, administrative bloat, the U.S. News ratings – there’s more low hanging fruit here than a U-PICK orchard.   However, there’s a major item often missing from these lists.

Baudelaire said that the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist.  Somehow, through all of the criticism of the legal education establishment, everyone seems to be holding on to the party line that AT LEAST law schools and the Socratic Method are teaching students to “think like lawyers.”

I call bullshit.

I fear that no matter how many practice oriented courses are added to the law school curriculum, the basics of the 1L curriculum like Torts, Contracts, Property, Civil Procedure will still be taught via the Langdellian Case Law Method, Soccratic Method and then the only assessment will occur via a single written exam consisting of 3 questions. Talk all you will of “thinking like a lawyer”, but all this does is cause students to do the classic “data dump” which is not an effective way to gain and retain information.  For all of the academe distaste for black letter law supplements, it’s clear that what students need to learn so that they can apply them to the facts.  Why conflate legal knowledge, critical thinking and the ability to decipher legal writing? And why do this in the first year of law school?  Is this an educational program or a hazing ritual?

While we are all making plans about how we would change legal education, we need to also have a serious conversation about pedagogy.  Instructional design and learning theory need to have a place at the table when we are designing our new courses.  Educational technologists on law school staffs are a start.  Law schools – and by this I mean the faculty – need to also work with and incorporate the advice of instructional designers and educational psychologists.  Repeating the experience that you had in law school is not going to cut it anymore.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dorkmaster/ CC BY-SA-NC 2.0

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  2 comments for “It’s the Pedagogy, Stupid.

  1. John Heywood
    November 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    But Sarah, that would require law faculty to listen to someone who, , isn’t a law professor….

  2. December 1, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    There was once a time when a law education was a part of the basic education that most people in America had. Law wasn’t some specialized education that required debt up to the eyeballs to obtain. It was a civic right that every education child had access to.

    With the way that law education is moving towards ever increasing specializations to extract money out of law students who then goes on to extract money from society, does this article come as a surprise to anyone?

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