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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Legal education v. legal systems

As the swan song of my month-long guest blogging stint at PrawfsBlawg, I'll throw out a final comment that relates to current debates on legal education, and which links that debate to recent scholarship on the relative effects of legal systems.

There is a literature on comparative political economy that explores how various national economic policies (e.g., more market-oriented v. more social welfare and market-coordinating) do relative to each other in terms of economic growth and other measures of wellbeing.  Related literature explores the effect of different legal systems on national economic growth and other policy indicia.  Some work is more specific, looking at, say, regulation of public firms or capital markets.  Other work looks more broadly as common law v. civil law legal systems; the work on effects of the 'legal origins' of a nation's legal system is part of this.

The findings are complex (if hedged in terms of strong causal claims), but let me just say that there's plausible evidence some legal systems correlate more stronger economic growth than others, some are better than others at fostering large public firms or certain kinds of capital markets, and some seem to do better than others at things like providing more settled law for people and firms to rely on. 

If all (or much) of that is so, it makes me wonder: does it really matter all that much how well trained lawyers are?  Whatever the flaws of our legal education model and of those elsewhere, advanced nations probably do a good enough job of producing lawyers competent to make the local system work.  In terms of the competence of a nation's legal professionals, the kinds of questions about legal educaton that we tend to focus on are probably pretty marginal in the grand scheme of things:  whether law school's third year adds enough to lawyer competence; whether legal training needs more clinic/apprenticeship/practical experience before licensure; whether Socratic method is effective pedagogy; what mix we should choose of legal methods, policy, professionalism, critical analysis, etc. 

I don't mean to say that these education debates aren't worth having; it's surely always a good idea to try to improve legal pedagogy and the training/licensure model.  And many of our education debates are driven by other issues that are important but separate from this legal-system point: e.g., the cost of U.S. legal education and the attendant student debt problem.  But work on the seeming effects of national legal systems and regulatory regimes--while it doesn't say this--leads me to think that, as long a jurisdiction consistently cranks out a corps of lawyers with basic competence, the efficacy of legal education doesn't much matter to the efficacy of a legal system.  We seek to fine-tune legal education for many good reasons, but for policy goals like more justice, optimal balance of economic growth and welfare, or better regulatory outcomes, fine-tuning the law matters more than fine-tuning lawyers.

Posted by Darryl Brown on October 31, 2012 at 06:35 AM | Permalink

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