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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Posner on practioners' proximity to practitioners

Sorry for the title.  Here is a link to a Richard Posner essay, written in tribute to the late Bernard Meltzer and published in the University of Chicago Law Review.  In the essay, Judge Posner cites Prof. Meltzer as one of the last of those professors who were more closely situated to law-practitioners than to the world of the university.  Posner shares some thoughts about how Prof. Meltzer responded and adapted to the 1960s "revolution" in the legal academy, and to the challenges / claims of the "crits."  Then, a bit later, he writes:

In exemplifying the traditional model of the engaged, the worldly, teacher-scholar, Meltzer reminded us of its strengths. Even at the most intellectually ambitious of the modern law schools, a large majority of students will become and remain practicing lawyers; and there is a good deal more to the practice of law than economics, or philosophy, or feminism, or theories of race. There is the knack of reading cases and statutes creatively, there is a largish body of basic legal concepts that every practicing lawyer should internalize, there is a bag of rhetorical tricks to be acquired along with a professional demeanor, a procedural system to be mastered, a subtle sense ("judgment") of just how far one can go in stretching the limits of established legal doctrines to be absorbed. These things cannot be the entirety of the modern lawyer’s professional equipment, and their inculcation cannot be the entirety of a first-rate modern legal education, because the law has become too deeply interfused with the methods and insights of other fields—and the law schools are still lagging badly in attempting to overcome the shameful aversion of most law students to statistics, math, science, and technology. Maybe at the law schools that have the brightest students only a third of the instruction should be in the traditional mold. But to reach that level the law schools will have to start hiring teachers who identify more strongly with the practicing profession than they do with academia.

Thoughts?  Is Posner's suggestion one that any Prawfs readers and bloggers plan on taking with them to, say, the AALS faculty-hiring conference?

Posted by Rick Garnett on September 23, 2007 at 04:21 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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» Judge Posner's Tribute To Professor Meltzer Together With His Comments About The Importance of Practical Advice In Legal Scholarship from Adjunct Law Prof Blog
In his tribute to famed labor law scholar Bernard Meltzer, who recently passed away, Judge Posner reflects on the importance of practical scholarship. Judge Posner's comments will appear in, 74 U. Chicago L. Rev. 435 and are available here. Judge [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 24, 2007 12:14:40 AM


It seems to me that Judge Posner is having second thoughts about his article in the centennial issue of the Harvard Law Review in which he claimed that law is not an autonomous discipline. He seems to be a bit worried now that all the interdisciplinary studies he has advocated for the law-school curriculum may crowd out the intellectual skills that a lawyer needs in practice. He seems to be coming perilously close to saying that the "modern lawyer's intellectual equipment" amounts to a discipline. But he has to move incrementally; he cannot so soon disavow his Harvard Law Review article.

Posted by: Anthony D'Amato | Oct 1, 2007 5:54:31 AM

One thing that occurs to me reading Posner's list -- all of which I agree are pretty important -- is that all of those things are difficult to teach, at least in a standard law school class without multiple writing or oral advocacy assignments.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 24, 2007 4:55:25 PM

My question is: identify more closely with the profession, or dedicate more time to teaching? I know that at least some medical schools hire a full-time professional committed to assisting professors in developing their teaching skills.

I commend the set of skills Posner is trying to inculcate. I think that those with great practice experience are particularly insightful on how to develop these skills. I have (and do continue to) look for them during the AALS process.

The difficulty here is that as long as the prestige/research game is the key to USNWR advancement (or merely staying in the same place), the less time profs will have to devote to teaching skills. Currently teaching skills are measured quite indirectly via bar passage rates and student-teacher ratios. Given how difficult it might be to ever quantify more direct measures of teaching quality, I worry that numbers-based commensurating ranking systems might assure a permanent marginalization of teaching skills in the legal academy. I hope we can move from a paradigm of "measurement" to "characterization" of law schools:


Posted by: Frank | Sep 23, 2007 10:30:23 PM

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