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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Debby Merritt Criticizes Doug Kahn’s 'Ignorance Of Clinical Education'

ClinicalFollowing up on Monday's post, The Downside of Requiring Additional Experiential Courses in Law School:  Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), What Do Students Do in Clinics?:

Douglas Kahn has posted an article criticizing the “proliferation of clinical and other experiential courses” in legal education. These courses, he argues, reduce the number of “doctrinal” courses that students take, leaving them “ill-prepared to practice law as soon after graduation as law firms would like.” The TaxProf Blog posted a summary of the article, and a baker’s dozen of readers have offered pro and con comments.

It’s an old debate, one that has bristled for more than 50 years. The discussion doesn’t surprise me, but Professor Kahn’s ignorance of clinical education does. His bold assertions about clinics reveal little familiarity with the actual operation of those courses. Let’s examine some of Kahn’s claims. ...

One can, as Professor Kahn suggests, debate the appropriate balance among doctrinal, experiential, and (I would add) interdisciplinary, perspective, and seminar courses in law school. But to have an intelligent debate, we need to know the content of those course types. Professor Kahn’s article reflects many of the stereotypes that educators hold about clinical and other experiential courses. Let’s learn the facts before we begin to negotiate: that’s a key lesson we teach in clinics.

Legal Education | Permalink


Simply put, students learn much more by applying doctrine to real-life situations than they do in a traditional doctrine class.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 18, 2017 10:33:24 AM

Merritt overstates her case dramatically. Clinics are useful. They teach less doctrine & legal analysis than doctrinal classes. Those are the facts. Deciding the right balance is the only aspect open for differences of opinion.

Posted by: anonymous | May 18, 2017 11:12:16 AM

I think doctrine vs practice is a false dichotomy. Any good teacher discussed practical issues. The reality is most clinical professors have weaker credentials than their colleagues and calling them practical doesn't change this

Posted by: Mike Livingston | May 18, 2017 10:56:40 PM

I don't think you guys and girls have been around modern clinics in recent years. They don't teach practical skills. Out of the three major clinical programs provided at my previous school of employment, two were overtly social justice warrior bootcamps. They learned to protest and scream at people at board meeting about racism.

I believe there was recently a thoughful ssrn article from a clinical professor about how the entire clinical paradigm was tied up with social justice ideology.

Posted by: Bobby | May 19, 2017 6:51:25 AM

When I was in law school (1980s), all of the clinics were social justice warrior programs. None of them dealt with workaday attorney tasks. They were a way for the law school to channel money to favored constituencies, and to provide them two to three credits requiring an astonlishly little amount of work, with an equal amount of "supervision" by the course instructor, usually a poorly-paid part-timer ineligible for the tenure track. Clinical courses in actual practice areas could indeed be valuable, but this never happens at SJW law schools (i.e., the vast majority of law schools). Everything is subordinate to the party line.

Posted by: Tiny Montgomery | May 19, 2017 2:33:59 PM