Paul L. Caron

Saturday, November 11, 2006

CBS News: How Not to Fix Law School

Interesting segment on CBS News' Court Watch with Andrew Cohen:  How Not to Fix Law School:

It took Harvard Law School roughly 130 years to try to "fix" its curriculum for first-year students and still the academics got it wrong. Instead of offering students more practical training for their sojourn through the law, the faculty and administrators of America's most famous law school instead decided to offer variations of the same tired curriculum that has caused generation after generation of lawyers to emerge from law school unprepared for the real world of the law. Maybe in the year 2136 they'll finally get it right. ...

The dirty truth is that very little of what law schools teach baby lawyers prepares them for their first true test — passing the bar exam. And very little of what new lawyers have to study and master to succeed at the bar exam prepares them for the practice of law. That's why, in spite of the six-figure salaries first-year associates can pull down in New York and Los Angeles and other hot spots, rookie attorneys aren't worth spit (or, more precisely, don't know spit about how to successfully practice law). Forcing first-years to study more about statutory interpretation, or international law, isn't going to solve that problem.

Instead of simply juggling and re-mixing the lineup of substantive courses for first years, the Law School could have and should have beefed up its practical learning program. What laws schools need more of, and what first-year students specifically crave, are more courses about legal ethics, more lectures about how to behave in a law firm or at a public defenders' or prosecutor's office, and more opportunities to practice and hone legal writing skills. Scott Turow aside, law schools don't do nearly enough to train nascent lawyers how to write a decent memo to a partner, or a decent first-draft of a brief to a lead prosecutor, or a contract, or, heaven forbid, a clear, concise and appropriately threatening demand letter to opposing counsel.

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What in the world is Mr. Cohen talking about?

At my law school, they teach you how to write memos, briefs and demand letters. They also teach legal ethics. They also give talks about how to behave on the job.

Mr. Cohen's unresearched opinions are far from the "dirty truth" he claims them to be. Harvard Law school was doing just fine before Mr. Cohen and will do just fine after Mr. Cohen.

Posted by: AM | Nov 13, 2006 8:28:57 AM

A. Cohen gets it very wrong: the role of lawyers in society is the ultimate litmus test. Is the course preparing them to render that role effectively. Preparing and passsing the bar is not a substantive value, it is a small step for a lawyer. Law schools time and student fees is not to be wasted on these small things. You are expected to have that on your own. Lawyers are social engineers, managing issues, containg damages, processing competing interest, works of this natures calls for a deeper understanding of law and the system it operates in. Finding out the statute of limitation for bringing a personal injury action or teaching a lawyer about the filing fees for a bankruptcy case is not what Harvard Law is meant for. We did not go to Harvard to learn that. Andrew Cohen is probably concerned about the paralegals, I am not sure if Harvard has started training paralegals. Harvard has taken a very positive step for making substantive contribution not only to the legal community, but to the society at large, for these very lawyers are going to impact the values that we cherish. Andrew must contact Bar-Bri etc., for the suggestions he has been making.

Posted by: Karam | Nov 12, 2006 9:09:57 AM

Law schools could address all of the criticisms above by discouraging applicants who have no practical experience other than 4 years earning a baccalaureate liberal arts degree. With a little more seasoning before law school, any law student can figure out how to handle the nuts and bolts stuff when the time comes.

Posted by: Jake | Nov 11, 2006 3:07:07 PM

"Forcing first-years to study more about statutory interpretation...isn't going to solve that problem."

Not for tax attorneys!!!

Posted by: andy | Nov 11, 2006 1:16:25 PM