November 26, 2011

The NYT editorializes against traditional classroom teaching in law schools.

Here.
Instead of a curriculum taught largely through professors’ grilling of students about appellate cases, some schools are offering more apprentice-style learning in legal clinics and more courses that train students for their multiple future roles as advocates and counselors, negotiators and deal-shapers, and problem-solvers.
Of course, law school clinics have been around for decades, but they don't overwhelm the coursework. If they did, law school would become much more expensive for students. And yet it's apprentice-style learning! If learning law doesn't involve deep study of difficult materials, why should you have to go to law school at all? If apprentice work is best, why not have apprenticeships?
The case method has been the foundation of legal education for 140 years. Its premise was that students would learn legal reasoning by studying appellate rulings. That approach treated law as a form of science and as a source of truth.

That vision was dated by the 1920s. It was a relic by the 1960s. Law is now regarded as a means rather than an end, a tool for solving problems. In reforming themselves, law schools have the chance to help reinvigorate the legal profession and rebuild public confidence in what lawyers can provide.
So... forget science and truth. Law is a means to an end. Got that? Can you understand why the NYT thinks that you, the public, would have more confidence in lawyers if you would only see them as deal-shapers and problem solvers who only use law because it's a means to an end? Would you look upon the law with newfound admiration if you thought that only unsophisticated people imagine that law has something to do with reasoning from principle and the accurate interpretation of texts?

By the way, if classroom teaching is suspect these days, and apprentice-style learning is better, why are we trapping all our youngsters in buildings with desks and books and blackboards and teachers? Why not devote half the school day to letting the students work cleaning the buildings and cooking and serving the meals? Newt Gingrich said it last week:
Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising.
It's a clinic. Students learn the ways of real-life practical work. Of course, Newt's idea is different from the law school clinic, because law students pay tuition for the benefit of learning through practice, while Newt's teenage janitors would get paid.

44 comments:

PaulV said...

I have a lawyer friend whose son read the law (Virginia 4 years) while working for him. He knew his way around court house and the clerks. He took bar and passed and is doing well. I doubt he does much trial work but many lawyers do not.

Spread Eagle said...

As in medical training, there should be a residency period following three years of law school classroom instruction. A little less emphasis on the bar exam, a little more on the residency training.

AJ Lynch said...

Duct tape and the NYT editorial board! Is there anything they can't fix?!

Maguro said...

When my wife went to middle school/high school in Japan back in the 70s/80s, the kids cleaned the school and even served each other lunch. Course they didn't get paid, it was all part of what they considered the educational experience - learning to cooperate, be part of a team, etc. She was (and is ) rather appalled to find out that American schoolkids weren't expected to do any of that.

The Crack Emcee said...

The best thing about the NYT is already knowing what it "thinks" before one reads it,...

EDH said...

Of course, law school clinics have been around for decades, but they don't overwhelm the coursework. If they did, law school would become much more expensive for students. And yet it's apprentice-style learning!

Not sure I follow the "more expensive for students" logic. Are you saying there'd be more tuition for both classes and added clinics?

Aside, shouldn't the net service provided by the student to an agency or firm in a clinic at least come close to paying for the credits involved?

The Drill SGT said...

sounds like turning law scools into clinics for social justice. Truth can be ignored, if the right type people get the outcome they desire.

Dad29 said...

There IS something to be said for practical experience, whether janitorial or legal. But all work follows rules, and those rules are more likely learned in a classroom.

MaxTruth said...

Classroom training has to be about the least effective of all methods of passing on knowledge. I'm sure law school is no exception.

Rick said...

In the late 1960's I got my "old-fashioned" law education and degree from what was then and now considered a top-5 law school. Law review was determined solely by grades and was by far the most demanding and prestigious extra curricular activity.
To avoid a lengthy comment I just deleted my observations regarding the negative effects of "clinical" law school courses and the general deterioration of the capabilities of graduates of our supposedly excellent law schools, which I personally witnessed over a 41-year legal career.
I am constantly and currently bombarded with requests for donations from my law school. Every request contains a list of all the things the school is doing, including increasing clinics, intra-disciplinary studies, nicer facilities, special benefits for those choosing "public service,"and diversity, which they inaccurately think will make me want to contribute.

phx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lawler Walken said...

Because if I'm a person of limited financial means I really want to have my legal needs met by some law student earning credits in a clinic. And I'll be super excited to learn that my helper hasn't actually spent much time being grilled about the law by somebody who knows something about it, he's been mopping floors at the clinic.

Or am I confusing the two ideas? I guess it would be sixth graders mopping floors and law students would be...doing what exactly? Uh....helping poor people somehow I guess. Maybe he could mop their floors at home?

phx said...

"How do we teach" should be preceded by "How do people learn?"

So if you say "Classroom teaching is the most ineffectual" you should acknowledge that that's not true for everybody.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"Law is a means to an end. "

Hence the Left's idea that judges should be unelected legislators, allowing them to bend the government to the will of the Enlightened Few and bypass that messy democratic process.

rhhardin said...

It's not a clinic if you're not lying down.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

Maybe the reason STEM courses still have rigor and its graduates still have respect is that physics, chemistry, and engineering require reasoning from principle and the accurate interpretation of texts.

This isn't just about mathematics and logic. It's about communication. Even in the messy and bespoke world of web development there is a constant self-correcting focus on standards (W3C, WHATWG). Standards, texts, languages, protocols -- these let people interact with, learn from, and inform the larger community. If everything is a new negotiation, nothing gets done.

* * *

That said, the NY TImes makes a very good point, even if they follow it to a completely wrongheaded conclusion.

Their point is that most lawyers don't actually do work that involves the application of the law.

If that is so, we don't need to reform law school. We need to stop paying overtrained lapdogs to do work any street-smart mutt can do. We need to stop treating credentials as skills.

Ann Althouse said...

"Not sure I follow the "more expensive for students" logic. Are you saying there'd be more tuition for both classes and added clinics?"

Clinical classes are much more expensive to run than traditional law school classes. If you wanted a larger proportion of law school to be clinics, you'd need lay out more money, and the standard way to get the money is through tuition. The proposal would in all likelihood result in higher tuition.

Ann Althouse said...

"To avoid a lengthy comment I just deleted my observations regarding the negative effects of "clinical" law school courses and the general deterioration of the capabilities of graduates of our supposedly excellent law schools, which I personally witnessed over a 41-year legal career."

I appreciate your comment and would love to read the material you thought you should delete. Long comments aren't really a problem (unless they lack good content). The space here is limitless.

Roger J. said...

Gasp--Professor A--you dont believe law schools exist to bring in tuition? say its not so--Law schools are rather like the penn state football program, (hopefully) less Jerry Sandusky

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Mike said...

I think the "problem" that the Times perceives is that too many law school graduates want to come out of school understanding the law, and not nearly enough (by the standards of the Times) wanting to change the world.

That is, they don't necessarily want to change the world in the direction that the Times wants, which is not necessarily for the better.

Anyway, the wish of the Times editorial board is that they could get more people who are lawyers out to change the world, even if these new lawyers lack the reading comprehension and analytical skills to survive law school, and lack the willingness to take on high five-figure debts to go to law school in the first place.

J said...

which I personally witnessed over a 41-year legal career.

It's pure BS aka a lie, Miss A. Like 95% of its comments here. Indeed, one might say misrepresentation of a serious sort (ie, people acting as bogus attorneys/CPAs/MDs--serious crime in CA. It doesn't even have an AA (it's the byro freak again RJ ).

Roger J. said...

J: your slipping dude--your first post was damn good and you deleted it!

Please, J, tell me what byro means--like the dude in dirty harry--"I gots to know, man"

Rick said...

J:
Sorry, but I may be missing your point. Are you saying that what I wrote about my observations is false, in that those were not really my observations, or that I am not receiving that type of request for donations?

Kirk Parker said...

Rick,

All of the above, probably; along with the additional assertion that you aren't you.

(Yes J is demented...)

Peano said...

If learning law doesn't involve deep study of difficult materials, why should you have to go to law school at all?

If learning law does involve the "deep study" of "difficulty materials," how did so many pea-brained idiots get to be lawyers?

Dante said...

Ann,

I have a request for you. I am largely ignorant of any formal understand of what "law" is. It's confusing to me in a number of ways.

On the one hand, it seems like a way to punish people, to set wrongs right, etc. But there are other examples that seem rather out of touch, like John Edwards use of law. Is there a standard, well defined purpose for law, a set of guiding principles? The FDA has this, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

John Burgess said...

I've seen proposals--from lawyers, naturally--that suggest law school should be cut by a year and students required to do a one- or two-year apprenticeship at a law firm.

They would be paid, on the order of $40K/yr, for their OJT. I think that right there is the poison in the pill. What lawyer or law firm wants to pay $40K to turn pigs ears into silk purses?

Paco Wové said...

"When my wife went to middle school/high school in Japan back in the 70s/80s, the kids cleaned the school and even served each other lunch."

I assume they all remained janitors throughout their working lives, then.

Rick said...

• Creating more interdisciplinary opportunities across campus;
• Constructing integrated spaces in which students and faculty
can easily collaborate;
• Developing ways to address global challenges by promoting an international perspective;
• Encouraging students not just to think like lawyers but how to act like lawyers through their work with clients in the XXXX Clinic;
• Inspiring students to make a lifelong commitment
to public service.
Those are some very slightly edited bullet points from my law school in its latest request for money.
Ann:
The following are not absolutes, but they were clear trends I saw over those 41 years:
In my interviews with law students from top law schools on both sides of the country I experienced a gradually diminishing number of students who were interested in having a detailed understanding of legal principles, including how and why those principles developed; I saw fewer students and graduates with superb analytic skills or with enthusiasm for applying analytic skills to problems presented to them during an interview or at the firm; I saw diminished stamina for intellectual rigor; I saw and heard gratitude for clinical courses that softened the burdens of law school; I learned that off campus "clinic" courses were a breeze and, from the students' perspective, a good opportunity for getting credit for easy work; I saw diminished writing skills; I saw that the diminished ability to write well and to apply analytic skills, or to have an interest in applying them, positively correlated with the number of clinical courses the student had taken; finally, I never encountered an associate who exhibited an ability to perform a real-life client-related task because of something learned through a clinic course.

Gary Rosen said...

"The best thing about the NYT is already knowing what it "thinks" before one reads it,..."

... and then you don't have to subscribe. Even better!

chrisnavin said...

The irony is that the logic behind the NYT editorial board's opinion has already had strong influence on our educational institutions, from "touch" math to gender and diversity requirements (which are presumed to transition simply to 'meritocracy' later on) to perhaps less focus on analytical rigour and intellectual excellence etc.

Change, to some extent, is inevitable, but not simply according to this redistributionist and self-serving thought.

I've been hoping that lawyers, with their high-end analytical skills and good minds would point out some of the faultier logic driving change at their schools. Especially when that change can interfere with the quality of education, the profession, and the ability to produce good lawyers....but they've been saddled with "the future."

As for the Times, I usually only hear them crying more loudly the less they have say.

Smilin' Jack said...

So... forget science and truth. Law is a means to an end. Got that?

Uh, yes. Most of us outside law schools got that a long time ago.

n.n said...

There is a general trend in all fields to produce technicians. There is a progressive distaste for independent, creative thinkers. The latter are more likely to perturb a steady state in a society. They are also more difficult to control and coordinate. They tend to be rebels with a cause and with a clue. As opposed to anarchists for hire.

Popville said...

IANAL (more a 1000 at bottom of ocean fan), but do think Crack made the comment of the week, eg:

The best thing about the NYT is already knowing what it "thinks" before one reads it,...

Mick said...

Come now. You voted for an ineligible candidate, and still will not acknowledge that there is doubt as to whether Obama is eligible or not. Why not defend his eligibility? What are you supposedly "teaching" there?

mtrobertsattorney said...

Isn't there a simple solution to this problem? Require all new law school hires to have actually practiced law, either in the private or public sector, for somewhere bewteen 5 and 10 years.

As for legal reasoning, why not require a course in logic for first year students?

Craig said...

Education worked better when the teachers were as illiterate as the students and the schools were run by the pastor's kids.

Ambrose said...

The irony of the NYT's view of law as merely a means to an end is that such thinking has been applied to the NYT's profession of journalism and has destroyed it.

David said...

"If learning law doesn't involve deep study of difficult materials, why should you have to go to law school at all? "

They could become journalists after law school. (Some people do.) Journalism seems to require no deep study of difficult materials whatsoever.

David said...

And by the way, clinical education is mostly bullshit. In my career as a lawyer, I saw many young men and women who had "clinical" experience. It did very little to prepare them for the actual practice of law.

Rigorous analysis and clear thinking are still the main tools of the trade.

David said...

In my interviews with law students from top law schools on both sides of the country I experienced a gradually diminishing number of students who were interested in having a detailed understanding of legal principles, including how and why those principles developed; I saw fewer students and graduates with superb analytic skills or with enthusiasm for applying analytic skills to problems presented to them during an interview or at the firm; I saw diminished stamina for intellectual rigor;

My experience was similar, though not quite as discouraging. I was never sure whether the deficiencies arose from inadequate training or lesser ability. Perhaps as you suggest, it was simple lack of interest in rigorous thought.

That said, there was still always a good supply of very fine young lawyers. As has always been the case, they had huge amounts to learn as they came into practice, but they had the attitude, aptitude and skills to learn quickly.