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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why Think of LRW Programs in this Way--or At All?

In my last post, I suggested that we should conceive of LRW programs broadly, as teaching students how to act like lawyers.

Why?  And why should we (mostly doctrinal faculty) put much thought into LRW programs at all?

My sense of law teaching market trends is that doctrinal teaching is becoming a more and more specialized field.  More and more schools are hiring based on publications, fellowships and similar "post-grad" academic activities, and advanced degrees in complementary fields.  Simultaneously, fewer and fewer young law professors have extensive experience as real-world lawyers.  We can debate whether these trends are good or bad, but even if we were to agree that, on balance, they are positive,  we should immediately recognize that they come at a cost.  Our students pay tuition, in part, in order to learn how to be lawyers--that is, to operate in an almost totally different field from the one in which their professors have expertise.  Law schools therefore have a responsibility to help prepare students for practice outside of the doctrinal classroom.

Unfortunately, law school faculty too often thinks of the LRW curriculum (if they think about it at all) as something separate from the “important” part of the law school. Strikingly, on “life of law school” blogs like this one, LRW is discussed exceedingly rarely.  More perniciously, LRW instructors often do not have the same status in the law school as doctrinal professors, and students get the message rather quickly that LRW is a step-child.

The truth is that as doctrinal teaching becomes more specialized, formerly ancillary law school programs, including LRW, clinics, internships and externships, professional training seminars, and so forth should now be viewed as central to legal education--as filling in the gaps that doctrinal courses no longer (and maybe never) covered.  LRW programs in particular, because they are mandatory first year courses, present an opportunity to teach students the things they should know but aren't likely to get in their doctrinal classes.

Doctrinal faculty would also do well to think about LRW programs because doing so would inform our own teaching pedagogy.  For example, the blog debates about whether to use edited or unedited cases in the classroom basically ignored the fact that a research assignment in an LRW class requires students to read, sift through, and analyze unedited cases.  (Which way this cuts is a different question, of course.) 

Similarly, the endless navel-gazing discussions about teaching pedagogy, exam writing and exam-taking advice, practical credentials for doctrinal faculty, curricular reform, law school rankings, and the very identity and purpose of a law school and its relationship to lawyering would benefit from some thought and understanding about the role of the LRW course.  Finally, LRW programs often include the kinds of interactive teaching methodologies that the Education folks insist make for good pedagogy.

In my next posts I'll focus on what LRW programs should include.

Posted by Hillel Levin on October 7, 2008 at 07:11 AM in Hillel Levin, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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When we are hiring summers or new lawyers, the only deal breaking grade is the LRW grade. And although the students may figure out that LRW is a step-child in the academic universe, they also seem to know that it is their one window into the universe where they will live - the law practice universe.

I haven't seen much of substance in these posts aside from the (apparently novel) idea that LRW is important and may deserve the attention of the doctrinal faculty. I look forward to the post on what LRW programs should include.

Posted by: sc | Oct 7, 2008 9:07:34 PM

If it makes you feel any better, practicing lawyers discuss this doctrinal/practical disconnect regularly. Step away from the academy and you will find the hiring partner in complete agreement with you, and appreciative of your effort. Unfortunately, those who wrap themselves in doctrine have as much disdain for the dirty job of practicing law as they do for those charged with teaching the skills necessary to do so.

Posted by: shg | Oct 7, 2008 7:47:22 AM

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