Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question: What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?
Gordon Smith (Professor of Law, Brigham Youg University, J. Reuben Clark Law School; Editor, Conglomerate):
Following the pattern established by Paul and Bill, my "single best idea for reforming legal education" is actually a cluster of ideas captured by a simple admonition: concentrate your resources on what law schools (should) do better than legal employers – classroom instruction.
Corollary #1: Do not create a legal writing program, moot court competitions, student-edited law reviews, clinics, or any other co-curricular offerings. In other words, ignore Bill Henderson's suggestion to solicit advice from legal employers. Allowing practicing lawyers to drive educational reforms is what got us into this mess. If you feel the need to teach "skills," develop an externship program, which will expose students to real legal problems and forge relationships between your school and potential employers.
Corollary #2: Improve the quality of classroom instruction. With all of the money you save by eliminating the legal writing program and co-curricular offerings, you can invest in small class sizes and light teaching loads. Make excellence in teaching a real expectation for promotion and tenure of your professors. Train them to be good teachers, and give them the support required to develop innovative teaching materials.
Corollary #3: Provide all of that improved instruction in two years. In the U.S., the pressure to move to two-year programs has been building, and, as my new dean pointed out to me recently, the globalization of law practice will increase that pressure, as American training (seven years of university education) is placed in competition with international training (five or six years of university education).