Thursday, September 25, 2008
Teaching Legal Reasoning in Substantive Law Courses
I recently taught a Legal Analysis class here at OCU that introduces entering 1Ls to legal reasoning. We used Steven J. Burton’s book on the subject as a text (An Introduction to Law and Legal Reasoning). It worked very well. But one of the things that Burton says in the preface struck me as worthy of some more attention and discussion by professors and students: “Law teachers challenge students to explain and criticize examples to shed light on the law [from cases on contracts, torts, or whatever the course’s subject is]. Students are left largely to their own devices to extract worthwhile lessons about legal reasoning from examples and discussions.”
That rings true for me, given my memory of most of the substantive courses I took in law school. But I wonder to what extent it is still true. For those of you who are law professors, do you pause to ask how a court is analogizing or distinguishing a new set of facts to a prior case, or a hypothetical case that everyone would agree should come out a certain way – and to generalize about what makes for a strong or weak analogical argument? And how do you diagnose what’s going wrong where students run into trouble trying to make a convincing analogical argument (either in class or in exams)? Also, are those of you who teach substantive courses (like constitutional law or torts) familiar with the texts that your school’s Legal Writing or Legal Analysis teachers use to teach legal reasoning, and do you ever remind students of these texts in trying to get them to apply previously-learned lessons on legal reasoning in their substantive courses? Would it make sense to ask students to keep these texts throughout law school, instead of selling them, so that they and their teachers could refer back to them in their subsequent courses (which, whatever specific area of law they are about, will also be at least in part about honing one’s skills in legal reasoning and argumentation)?
Just curious how this is done elsewhere.
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