Paul L. Caron

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spencer: The Law School Critique in Historical Perspective

A. Benjamin Spencer (Washington & Lee), The Law School Critique in Historical Perspective:

Contemporary critiques of legal education abound. This arises from what can be described as a perfect storm: the confluence of softness in the legal employment market, the skyrocketing costs of law school, and the unwillingness of clients and law firms to continue subsidizing the further training of lawyers who failed to learn how to practice in law school. As legal jobs become more scarce and salaries stagnate, the value proposition of law school rightly is being questioned from all directions. Although numerous valid criticisms have been put forth, some seem to be untethered from a full appreciation for how the current model of legal education developed. Indeed, a historical perspective on legal education is sorely missing from this debate, as many of the criticisms merely echo charges that have been lodged against legal education for well over a century, but do not draw lessons from how those former critiques ultimately failed to deliver fundamental change. This Article reviews the historical development of legal education in America, including the critiques and reforms made along the way, to see what insight we can gain that will inform our own efforts to make law schools better at preparing lawyers for practice.

For an extended discussion of the article, see our sister Legal Skills Prof Blog, More on the Influence of the Langdellian Tradition and Langdellian Bargain on Contemporary Legal Education:

In sum, like the Neumann article, Spencer shows how the Langdellian Tradition and "Langdellian Bargain" (discussed here) have shaped and restricted contemporary legal education. As Spencer recognizes, "Unfortunately, the fraying of the foundation for the justification and perpetuation of the Langdellian approach is not likely to usher in fundamental change with ease. Law faculty benefit from the current structure of the course delivery system and may be loathe to take on work that will compromise time for other pursuits or impose burdens without increasing compensation." "Further, the profile of current law faculty—having been educated under the Langdellian system and having had little to no practice experience—renders them less sympathetic to the urge toward practice-relevance and less competent to devise and deliver a program with such an orientation."

Some of the changes Spencer proposes include:

  • "Modernize the first year to include an introductory overview of the legal system and the legal profession, as well as subjects more pertinent to contemporary legal practice such as transnational law and administrative law;
  • Impose a live-client experience requirement, having all students participate in either a clinical course or an externship;
  • Extend legal research and writing education into the second year, featuring more extensive simulation training focused on certain areas such as litigation and transactional skills;
  • Redesign the content of traditional courses away from an emphasis on cases toward more source material and practice documents, while redesigning the delivery of courses around more group work and problem-solving exercises in the lawyer role during class meetings;
  • Hire full-time, part-time, and adjunct faculty who can bring more extensive and contemporary practice experience to bear on the design and delivery of the curriculum;
  • Develop capstone courses that enable third-year law students to synthesize their learning across courses and apply it in practice settings."

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Wow-- this is even better than Leiter's piece, which was also really good. I agree wholeheartedly with every suggestion in that bullet point list.

Posted by: Matthew Rappaport | Mar 16, 2012 10:42:37 AM