Thursday, December 20, 2007

Focus on Legal Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has two articles in today's issue discussing reforms in legal education. The first article discusses the meetings that have been held recently whose focus was making changes in the way the law is taught. A meeting was held at the University of South Carolina School of Law in November, and this month deans from ten law schools that are "revamping their programs" met at Stanford Law School. The problems that have been identified will be familiar to anyone who is involved in legal education: "Law-school graduates don't have the practical skills to be effective lawyers. The second and third years of law school are repetitious. Law schools don't do enough to recognize and reward good teaching and the examination of ethics. Faculty members aren't encouraged to set educational goals for students and assess whether they've achieved them." Is it possible that legal education can be changed to respond to the above criticisms?

At least one knowledgeable individual, Professor Judith Welch Wegner, former AALS president and co-author of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching report that called for reforms in legal education, believes that "there are so many forces at work today that there really could be a breakthrough." Many participants at the two meetings agreed with Dean Edward L. Rubin, dean of Vanderbilt University Law School, who wants to look at "way that legal education can advance more logically from the first through the third years." He and others "argued that today's legal-education system does not reflect the modern practice of law...Law schools have succeeded in teaching students to think like lawyers: '1870s lawyers.'"

The second article is a portrait of Touro Law Center where students are learning about the "keys to real-life lawyering" and where some of the recommendations of the Carnegie report are being put into practice. Touro is fortunate enough to be on a new campus that includes a federal courthouse and a state courthouse. Students can walk over to the courthouses if they want to watch a trial. First-year, first-semester students spend a day in the state courthouse in small groups; second semester, they spend a day in the federal courthouse. "Final exams for some upper-level students consist of mock trials played out in front of real judges at the state courthouse." It sounds like a wonderful immersion in the real-life practice of law. Unfortunately, not every law school enjoys Touro's promixity to courthouses.

No comments: