|Legal Blog Watch|
Should Law Schools Teach Skills?
Over a month ago, my colleague Bob Ambrogi posted about the Carnegie Foundation report indicting legal education for failing to teach about real cases and trends and practical skills. And the debate over the role of law schools in preparing students for the reality of practice continues to rage in full force, with a diverse coalition comprised of both law professors and practitioners advocating for substantial reform.
Up first is Professor Ann Althouse, a guest columnist this month for the New York Times, with her piece, Skull Full of Mush (2/20/07). Althouse writes that law schools disrespect law students by focusing too much on theory and unreal hypotheticals instead of using real cases and facts to teach students to think and practice like real lawyers. Another academic, Professor James Maule of Mauled Again, follows with a lengthy post that includes multiple links to other critiques of legal education and the need for reform. Maule doesn't advocate for teaching skills per se; rather, like Althouse, he endorses teaching about real cases, thinking about how how a particular analysis would impact clients or considering the ethics implications of a decision, instead of teaching ethics in the abstract, as a separate part of the curriculum. From Maule's post:
The lawyers with more practice experience, however, want legal education to go even further and not simply teach what it's like to think and practice as a lawyer but how to actually function as one. Susan Cartier Liebel of Build A Solo Practice (who's also taught a law school course on this topic for seven years) has written extensively about the need for law schools to teach practical skills. And in this post, she features a letter by trial lawyer, Mark Solomon, who is also a partner in the The Billable Hour, who writes that one reason that so many law students grow frustrated in law school is due to the lack of practical training. From Solomon's letter:
So where do I come down on all of this? I do agree with professors Althouse and Maule that law school ought to examine practical issues and incorporate ethics into every aspect of the curriculum instead of ghettoizing it as a stand-alone course. In fact, I craved this type of education back in law school, when I sat in the back of the class, forever asking questions about whether a particular practice was ethical or how this provision or that of the tax code impacted individual behavior (my efforts weren't well received; pretty soon, professors simply stopped calling on me).
But the absence of real life issues from law school isn't as acute as it was back when I was a student, in large part because of blogs. Today, more law professors are blogging than ever before, and they're sharing their views on the intersection between legal theory and real world cases. That doesn't excuse the failure of law schools to formalize this kind of approach within legal education, but it certainly has a mitigating effect.
But while I'm willing to go as far as Althouse and Maule, you might be surprised to discover that as someone who's spent the past four years blogging about how to hang a shingle, I'm not a big fan of skills training in law school. Sure, I think that law schools should offer these classes as options, in the same way that law schools offer clinics or trial advocacy or moot court, but I don't believe in mandating them. For me, the best part of law school (and any school, in general) is that it afforded me the luxury of avoiding the nitty gritty of the real world (with the exception of the law firms where I worked during the summer) and to spend time pondering the meaning of a judicial opinion or exploring how precedent developed. As a student, I knew that I had my entire career to argue cases, to deal with clients and to worry about how I'd earn a living.
I think in many ways, we oversell the importance of skills training. There's always time to learn skills on the job. But when is the last time when, as a busy lawyer, you had a chance to savor the reasoning of a really well written Supreme Court decision or contemplate its impact not just on your client but on public at large? To me, that's what law school is, or ought to be for.
I'm quite sure I'm in the minority here, so let me hear your views below.
RODRIGO GONZALEZ FERNANDEZ
Renato Sánchez 3586 dep 10