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September 10, 2011

Interesting comments from Dean Chemerinsky on his "Ideal Law School for the 21st Century"

I just came across this article on SSRN titled "The Ideal Law School for the 21st Century."  The piece is authored by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the new UC Irvine law school, and it describes his experiences starting the school and his "vision" for UCI Law School.   Here is one passage discussing this vision I found especially blog-worthy:

I felt from the outset that if we simply replicated other law schools we will have failed. There is not a need for another law school like all of the others that already exist.  I felt from the outset that if we simply replicated other law schools we will have failed.  There is not a need for another law school like all of the others that already exist.

My central vision is that I want us to do the best possible job of preparing students for the practice of law at the highest levels of the profession.  I certainly did not graduate from law school ready to practice law. On my first day at my first job after graduating from law school, as a trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice, my supervising lawyer told me that an answer to a particular question could be found in the local rules of the federal district court.  I did not know that there were local rules of the federal district.

Law schools do many things well, including teaching students skills such as the ability to read cases and construct legal arguments, and instructing students on the doctrines in many areas of law. But as many reports have noted, law schools are far less successful in preparing students for the practice of law.There are many reasons for this.  I believe that elite law schools have long eschewed this as a primary objective.  Long ago, they adopted the mantra that they teach students to think like lawyers and leave practical training for after graduation.

Also, the nature of most law school classes, a single instructor in front of a large number of students, does not lend itself to training in skills.  This format of instruction works for conveying information, but skills cannot be learned in this way.  No one would learn how to be a tennis player or a play a musical instrument by exclusively or primarily sitting in a classroom; that is true of any skill.  More subtly, having a single instructor in front of a large number of students limits most evaluations in law school to the grade from a single final examination.  No skills are taught by this experience; there is not even good instruction on the skill of taking law school exams because generally students receive no feedback other than a grade about their performance.

I also fear that the lack of skills training in most law schools is, in part, because most law school faculty are not equipped or oriented towards doing this.  The trend over the last couple of decades, especially in elite schools, is to hire individuals with Ph.D.s, but with no practice experience.  Even those who have practiced before going into teaching generally have done so for only a very short time.  I have observed that very few faculty at elite law schools are actively engaged in the practice of law.  My impression is that this has decreased over the thirty years that I have been an academic, partially because publication and other demands have increased and partially because those being hired are less oriented towards doing so.

Posted by DAB

September 10, 2011 in Teaching -- new courses, The mission of law schools | Permalink

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