Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Chronicle: Leading Legal Educators Call for a Shakeup in How the Law Is Taught

Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:  Leading Legal Educators Call for a Shakeup in How the Law Is Taught, by Katherine Mangan:

Years of frustration over a system of legal education that has changed little in more than a century is boiling over in a series of meetings designed to shake up the profession.

Fifty-seven legal educators, including deans, professors, and program administrators, exchanged ideas in November at the University of South Carolina School of Law. This month Stanford Law School held a gathering of deans from 10 law schools that are revamping their programs.

"People who are trying to make changes at different law schools are isolated from each other, and that can result in a lot of inertia. We're trying to bridge that isolation," said Judith Welch Wegner, a former president of the Association of American Law Schools [and editor of our State & Local Government Law Prof Blog], who is one of the authors of a report this year from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that recommended sweeping changes in legal education. Ms. Wegner, who is also a professor and former dean of the University of North Carolina School of Law, said she had been asked to speak at several law schools since the report was published.

Edward L. Rubin, dean of Vanderbilt University Law School, a participant in both the South Carolina and Stanford conferences, said he wanted to examine ways that legal education can advance more logically from the first through the third years.

"We're teaching three years of courses at the same level, which leads students to be terrorized in the first year and bored in the third," he told his colleagues at the South Carolina conference.

Mr. Rubin and several other speakers also argued that today's legal-education system does not reflect the modern practice of law, because it focuses too heavily on judicial opinions rather than on the more complex array of transactions, regulations, and statutes that today's lawyers must interpret for their clients.

Law schools have succeeded in teaching students to think like lawyers: "1870s lawyers," Mr. Rubin said.

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