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March 20, 2005

How Can Law School Be Different?

I linked to this a couple of weeks ago at Blawg Wisdom, but a group of 1Ls at GULC (including the Scoplaw and Swanno) have started a new site called Law School Can Be Different (LSCBD) as a way to maintain and advance a conversation they have been having about improving legal education so that it better serves both students and society. It's an awesome project and is definitely worth checking out. So far they have focused on a bit of the history of Section 3 at GULC, as well as where legal education stands today as far as they're concerned. I would like to see them expand this into a nationwide dialogue about the purposes of legal education and how more schools could learn from Section 3 and start thinking critically about their own curricula. I have suggested a nationwide conference on the subject. Let's make it in Spring '06, about this time next year, maybe during the Cherry Blossom Festival here in DC so that can be an added incentive for people to come. Invite law students and legal scholars from around the country, but especially try to get participation from those who have written extensively on the subject of reform in legal education. Next year could be the perfect time to do this since it would coincide w/the release of the first Equal Justice Works Guide to Public Interest Law Schools. Anyway, as I mentioned on the LSCBD discussion board, if you're interested in changing legal education, you might also be interested in this recent discussion at law.com in which Stephen Friedman, the new Dean of Pace U. LS, talks about how he wants to change legal education. He says:
We need a powerfully different way of looking at what we're doing as law schools. What I'm talking about is a revolutionary notion. There is a lack of alignment between legal education and the needs of law firms. The legal world has changed. Firms are bigger, they have to train associates much longer, and law is becoming more specialized. We have to train our students to hit the ground running. What's fun about being a lawyer is being a lawyer -- not a first-year associate. The faster we bring students to being productive lawyers, the happier they'll be.
Yeah, let's align legal education more closely with the needs of firms. That'll be good for society. Right. Some of the other things Friedman says sound a little better. I'm thinking Mr. Friedman should be on the list of speakers at at the upcoming “Law School Can Be Different” conference? What do you think? UPDATE 03-21-05: I've been meaning to say something about this for a while, but on the subject of what's wrong w/law school and how it could/should be different, this critique of law school exams is very helpful. An excerpt:
And, of course, the key lawyering skills -- the ones that separate highly successful practitioners from mediocrities -- are barely taught in most law schools, outside the clinic, let alone tested: tenacity, diligence, thoroughness, collaboration, consultation, fact investigation, and, crucially, the willingness to admit error and start over from scratch. Those qualities will actually put you at a disadvantage on law school exams. Far better to rely on flashes of insight and an ability to write on the fly.
The rest of the article explains why the typical law school exam is flawed and goes on to denounce the MPRE and the multistate bar exam. Great stuff.

Posted March 20, 2005 12:23 PM | 2L law school


"I have suggested a nationwide conference on the subject. Letís make it in Spring Ď06, about this time next year, maybe during the Cherry Blossom Festival here in DC so that can be an added incentive for people to come."

Hosting it at GW would have the added benefit of prodding whoever the new dean is.

Posted by: luminous at March 20, 2005 01:50 PM

i'm there. and i'm happy to talk about northeastern. are we inviting law school deans and other administrators that think about this issue every day?

Posted by: monica at March 20, 2005 02:12 PM

What they really need to do is focus on more practical experience, such as legal clinics. (Notice a theme in my comments?) Honestly, the impact of two criminal clinics was so profound that I recommend that everyone do it. There is such a vast difference between what we study in law school and what we actually end up doing in the profession that there certainly needs to be a realignment.

As for aligning legal education with the needs of firms, yeah, let's teach everyone document review and how to second chair. That's money well-spent.

Posted by: Three Generations at March 20, 2005 07:26 PM

forget clinics - do co-ops! four full-time internships that last for 3 months. it's awesome!

Posted by: monica at March 20, 2005 11:00 PM

I'm starting to get very interested in the history of legal education, and it sounds like y'all are proposing a return to the apprentice system. This ties in to the observation/critique that law school is how it is because the profession wants to keep the barrier to entry high.

For my purposes, the grad-school model of law school is much preferable, at least at this stage of my education. I just enjoy building up this big, complex structure that can explain all the little thoughts running around in my head, but the reason I'm here and not in a Ph.D. program is that there are elements of immediacy and practicality in the study of law that aren't present in linguistics or sociology or philosophy.

The motivations behind law school reform are manifold. However, there is common ground in that pretty much everyone feels that the standard curriculum has frozen and, though it has certainly evolved, the standard curriculum still reifies the old doctrine and almost all lawyers take it as the baseline for their legal educations.

There can be different kinds of legal education. It is a bit of myth that all lawyers do the same thing, so why not work to ease the ABA's stranglehold on how the law is taught?

Posted by: swanno at March 21, 2005 10:48 AM

"Yeah, letís align legal education more closely with the needs of firms. Thatíll be good for society. Right."

To be fair, I think she's talking about aligning legal education with the practice of law, and using firms as an example.

Posted by: luminous at March 21, 2005 11:37 PM

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