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Friday, August 24, 2007

Third Year Blues

Liz's post a few days ago, which in turn cited an earlier post of mine (this is how you can goose your citation numbers, by the way), talked about increasing the number of skills courses in the law school curriculum.  Her post raises an important issue in legal education -- what to do with/about the third year of law school.

We all know the scare you/work you/bore you to death saying about law school.  But I sense there is a lot of reality about students being bored to death in the third year.  In a real sense, students have outgrown us by that time.  They've been exposed to what most of us do -- thinking about law in a pretty conceptual sense, have gotten better at it (or not), and are looking forward to the next stage of their careers.  For the great majority of them, that next stage will be practice of some sort.  As much as we'd like them to become, in effect, advanced graduate students, by the third year most students have taken at least one step away from close reading of appellate cases, and toward practicing trial skills, or working with legal documents, or counseling clients.  At least that's where they want one of their feet to be.

The problem is that that's where most of us are not.  I suspect that most law professors, except for clinical faculty, simply don't have that much interest in preparing our students for legal practice beyond getting them adept at reading cases, understanding jurisprudence or legal history, or getting a handle on some substantive law area.  (All those skills are important, of course -- but they're really not enough.)  And of course it's a lot of work to tie what what we do in the classroom to how students will actually practice, and for most of us the professional payoff and the self-gratification lies elsewhere.

Some of this gap can be made up by skills faculty, adjuncts, and off-campus externships.  But I'm coming to believe that non-skills faculty teaching upper-level classes do have some responsibility to do more than repeat teaching patterns from the first year.  There are a lot of really interesting things profs can do -- from an administrative law professor creating a semester-long problem that requires students to, well, act as an attorney in an administrative proceeding, to a family law attorney setting up a dispute that requires a negotiation, complete with unhappy and contentious clients.  Again, these all take a lot of work; it would be a lot easier for me simply to walk into my Admin Law class and have a socratic dialogue about Chevron.  It would probably be more interesting for me, too.  But as I think more and more about law teaching, and see the disengagement of too many third-year students, I am coming to believe that we need to do more than what we're doing, and more than what makes us as professors not bored in class.

Posted by Bill Araiza on August 24, 2007 at 08:10 PM | Permalink

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» The 3L Dilemma from Simple Justice
Over at PrawfsBlawg, a blog dealing with that wonderful insular world of law schools, an interesting post asking what to do about 3rd year law students... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 26, 2007 10:27:40 AM

Comments

FWIW, I'm beginning my 2L year and I'll barely be able to fit all the courses in which I'm interested into the next two years, so I don't anticipate being a disengaged 3L. I think there are two reasons for this: (1) I'm actually interested in the law as an intellectual subject as well as a career; (2) I'm taking a lot of clinicals. It seems to me that if a 3L is disengaged, it's probably because they weren't interested in law in the first place and/or they aren't taking enough clinicals. I guess I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for those people and don't think the curriculum needs to be changed around them.

Posted by: Tom | Aug 29, 2007 2:37:31 PM

I think that the 2nd year/3rd year dilemma posed by "k" suggests that it may be problematic to completely revamp all courses taken by third years. As a brief aside, regardless of the course or context, what you bring to the course as a student (e.g. enthusiasm and engagement) has a lot to do with what you get out of any course. However, my point here is that perhaps law schools should take a page from the business school playbook and incorporate a number of "capstone" courses that require 3rd year students to incorporate and use the variety of skills that they have developed in the last 2 years and work on some new ones.

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Aug 25, 2007 7:47:16 AM

I think these are great pedagogical ideas. However, many third-year students share classes with second-year students, so the full-semester administrative problem, for instance, might not be as rewarding for a second-year student who hasn't already mastered that conceptual thinking.

I think that could be remedied by taking a page from many undergraduate colleges, though: give extra credits for taking a "lab"--as in your example, for instance, a semester-long simulation that accompanies the traditional Socratic class. Second-year students could choose for themselves whether they wanted to take the lab. The lab portion could be graded separately, or not, depending on the pedagogical goals. As it stands now, most mock experience students get in law school is outside the classroom setting, either in Moot Court or Mock Trial. It seems silly not to combine practical skills teaching with the substantive legal teaching when every other pedagogical model tells us that students learn better by doing than by hearing or reading.

Posted by: k | Aug 25, 2007 1:24:11 AM

Amen. Right now I'm viewing my third year as useful mostly because it gives me some extra time to look for a job before I start studying for the bar. My choice of classes for my final semester will be entirely based on 2 things: what classes are "easiest" and their time/day (whether I can wrangle a schedule that gives me two+ days off per week).

Posted by: Bev | Aug 25, 2007 12:45:36 AM

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