Paul L. Caron

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Judge Cabranes' Three-Part Prescription for Law Schools

AALSNational Law Journal, A Prescription for Law Schools: Go Back to the Basics, Return to 'Terra Firma':

Judge José Cabranes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit offered a three-part remedy for what ails the U.S. legal academy before a packed ballroom of legal educators who gathers in Washington for the AALS annual meeting.

Cabranes, like others before him, noted that law schools are in "something of a crisis," given the skyrocketing cost of tuition, ever-higher graduate debts and a growing feeling that legal scholarship is of little use to the bench or practitioners. ...

To get back on track, law schools should shift their curricula back to core courses and away from the interdisciplinary classes that have grown in popularity, he said; they should introduce a two-year core law program followed by a yearlong apprenticeship, and increase transparency regarding costs, job prospects and financial aid information. ...

Cabranes lamented the move by law schools toward specialized, often interdisciplinary courses that can displace "black-letter" law courses — criminal and civil procedure, evidence and federal courts. He related a story about a friend's child who enrolled in a law school clinic focusing on housing court — but who had never taken a property law course. Core law courses should come before clinics and interdisciplinary work, even if the latter are more popular with students and faculty, he said. ...

Cabranas also offered a harsh assessment of the scholarship that legal educators are producing. He recalled recent criticism from several Supreme Court justices that the scholarship has left "terra firma" in favor of outer space. "Legal scholarship is a conversation among members of the academy with the rest of us reading — maybe," he said.

Similarly, Cabranes condemned a growing "cult of globalization."Quite a few law schools have launched programs overseas, entered partnerships with foreign law schools, hosted globalization conferences, founded centers geared towards globalization and fostered student exchanges overseas. Rather than help students gain a solid foundation in the law, these are ways for law professors to "look overseas for problems to solve and people to help," he said. Then there is the free faculty and student travel that goes along with it, he added. "Many of these international programs are worthy endeavors…but these global intentions are mostly a distraction from the core objective of a law school," Cabranes said.

Daniel B. Rodriguez (Dean, Northwestern), Neither Sacred Nor Profane: Real Life, Real Law Schools:

In a provocative speech at the AALS luncheon this afternoon, federal appellate judge Jose Cabranes (introduced by his former student, Justice Sonia Sotomayor) sharply admonished law schools to focus more squarely on bread-and-butter courses, to curtail efforts at globalization, and to attend more constructively to the third year of law school to see whether it could better be utilized as a transition into the profession.  The present state of legal scholarship came under criticism by Judge Cabranes as well.

Much of the critique by the learned judge rests on an empirical basis that is anachronistic.  The changes in legal education in the past decade have been substantial and innovative.  ...

Bread and butter courses?  The first-year curriculum at every law school, while not without problems, focuses on core competencies and subjects.  This focus aims to prepare students for upper-divison specialization; it also prepares students for bar examinations — and that is a good, not bad, thing.  Much of the upper division is elective, yet students pursue advanced work in what, by any measure, is within the core of the legal canon.  ...

The retreat from globalization?  Huh?  The attention directed by substantial segments of the professoriate to problems of the world is, to me, a source of pride.  The concern usually voiced is that American law schools do not do enough to orient students toward the increasingly international legal environment, not that they do too much. ...

The third year of law school?  A tough subject, to be sure.  The (proper) rise of clinical education, the focus on supervised research, the availability of ... relevant extracurricular activities, and so on, all suggest that students are rightly pushing law schools to develop and maintain substantial programs as bridges into the legal profession. ...

[T]hese broad-scale critiques ought to be framed around current information about what actually goes on within the walls of American law schools.

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Cabranes was not tough enough. Two years followed by apprenticeship is the right direction, but the program should be undergraduate.

Dean Rodriguez is in the weeds. Graduates of his school are not equipped to practice law, or even to be law profs. They have wasted at least $100K in tuition (2 years undergrad, 1 law school) and they haven't the first clue about the things that lawyers and judges do.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Jan 8, 2012 8:34:23 AM