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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A Sponsored Announcement from West Academic

The following guest post is authored by Prof. Michael Vitiello of McGeorge.

Finding bad news about legal education is easy.  And some of the bad news is deeply troubling.  No one in legal education can be insensitive to the slowly recovering employment market and to concerns about student debt.  But some of the gloom and doom about law schools is just wrong.

In 2011, David Segal wrote a series of articles that appeared on the front page of the New York Times.  His articles did not say anything new about legal education.  But the appearance of his views on the front page of the Times made Segal’s voice important.

Some of Segal’s criticisms are legitimate. But one aspect of his critique was galling.  In one article, after observing that young lawyers have spent over $150,000 for their legal educations, Segal commented, “What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training.”  Segal also contended that the law school curriculum has changed little since the days of Dean Langdell.  Segal’s portrayal of legal education was stereotypical and one dimensional.

When I graduated from law school 40 years ago, the statement about limited practical training was true.  Even then, law schools were putting in place legal clinics and volunteer programs to give students on-hands experience.  To continue to insist that little has changed in the past three decades demonstrates a lack of awareness of what goes on in law schools around the country.

Start with changes in skills based courses like legal writing and moot court. 

Within the past 25 years, many schools have converted their programs from one or two unit pass-fail courses often taught by upper level students to far more demanding programs.  Most schools hire tenure track or long term contract professionals.  Many law schools offer rigorous writing programs and train students in oral advocacy skills.  That has been the pattern at McGeorge.  The directors of our Global Lawyering program have created a nationally recognized writing program.  The program spans the first two years and offers students with a wide range of practical skills.  For example, during their 2 L year, students argue multiple motions in a “district court” after they have submitted memoranda to the court.  Their earlier memoranda culminate in a full appellate brief, submitted and argued individually to an appellate court.  Each student argues before a three judge panel.  The realistic litigation problem introduces students to international law as well.  For example, students may have to argue whether domestic or foreign law applies because the problem presents a conflict of law question.

Skills education goes well beyond clinics, legal writing, trial advocacy, and externship programs. Many professors have integrated skills training into more traditional courses.  I offer my own example as someone who came into the academy after three years of experience, mostly as a judicial clerk.  Many years ago, I realized the necessity of integrating simulation exercises into my Civil Procedure course.  Concepts like personal jurisdiction and summary judgment challenge the best students; students have trouble grasping concepts that lack any intuitive feel.  For many years, I pieced together simulation exercises; but I did not provide systematic exposure. 

That all changed when my acquisitions editor at West Academic Publishing accepted my proposal to publish a series of simulation books.  The books in the Bridge to Practice Series™ are designed to supplement traditional casebooks across the curriculum.  Priced reasonably, the paperbacks run between 100 and 200 pages.  Each contains a series of simulations with a teacher’s manual detailing how the professor can integrate the simulations into their “podium” courses.

For example, Civil Procedure Simulations: Bridge to Practice, which I wrote, includes nine simulations.  On the first day of class, students meet a young woman who has learned that an internet journalist intends to publish a story asserting that her boss, a prominent judge, and she downloaded child pornography on their office computers.  They must not only interview her but also decide whether the prospective client should file an action in New York, where they are licensed, or Connecticut.  (Although they do not fully understand the importance of that choice until later, they begin to get a sense that choice of law problems lurch near the surface:  if New York tort law applies, the client may have no claim for relief, while her case can move forward under Connecticut law.)  Later in the semester, they argue a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction before a magistrate judge (one of my research assistants).  Still later, they submit memoranda arguing for or against a motion to dismiss for the failure to state a claim for relief.  The simulation tests their ability to decipher the Supreme Court’s new test in two controversial decisions, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal.  They also submit memoranda, arguing whether the court can grant an amendment to add additional defendants after the statute of limitations has run.  Over the course of most of four weeks, they engage in discovery exercises and must hand over documents from a packet of material or determine whether and how they can resist.  Finally, they submit memoranda assessing whether the court should grant summary judgment in the case.

I am looking forward to using Criminal Procedure Simulations: Bridge to Practice during the fall semester when I will be teaching the course at night.  Anyone who has taught three hours at night knows the pitfalls:  exhaustion of the students and the professor make even the most interesting material a challenge. The Criminal Procedure Simulations book, which I also authored, includes a wide variety of exercises, including one in which the students must advise the senior partner on litigation strategy.  Others assign students roles so that they can conduct a hearing and then argue a motion to suppress; yet others involve arguing a motion to suppress from facts developed in a hearing transcript; still others involve short writing assignments; and others allow for appellate arguments.

The series is expanding.  Already in print are Galves, Imwinkelried and Leach's Evidence Simulations: Bridge to Practice; Sprankling’s Property Law Simulations: Bridge to Practice, and Cerrnak’s Antitrust Simulations: Bridge to Practice.  Other books, including volumes in contracts, professional responsibility and criminal law, are in progress.  Additional volumes are under discussion, including torts, immigration law, constitutional law, advanced criminal procedure, and business associations.

By way of circling back to my original point, I offer my experience and the Bridge to Practice books as examples of some of the changes that have taken place in legal education.  They are hardly unique.  Segal should have dug deeper and questioned his thesis before broadly criticizing legal education.  In fact, legal education has changed in meaningful ways.  And while no large corporate law firm would trust a new associate to prepare a corporate merger, graduates today have far more practical training than lawyers graduating 40 years ago.  Indeed, Dean Langdell would not recognize legal education today.

Posted by Dan Markel on June 3, 2014 at 01:55 PM in Sponsored Announcements | Permalink