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Sunday, September 27, 2009

What did the Carnegie report say anyway?

In the last few years, there's been a fair amount of talk in the legal academy about how legal education ought to change, in part in response to the 2007 Carnegie Foundation report. Many assume that the report is a repeat of the familiar "law school should be more practical," and to a certain extent that's true. But it's more nuanced than that.

One way to get the gist is to head to the website of the new law school at UC-Irvine, founded by noted constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky. The site summarizes its curriculum this way: "A cutting-edge, strongly interdisciplinary curriculum will prepare UC Irvine School of Law graduates not only to think like a lawyer but also to actually practice law."  UCI's website also includes a key quote from the Carnegie report: "Most law schools give only casual attention to teaching students how to use legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice.  Unlike other professional education, most notably medical school, legal education typically pays relatively little attention to direct training in professional practice.  The result is to prolong and reinforce the habits of thinking like a student rather than an apprentice practitioner, conveying the impression that lawyers are more like competitive scholars than attorneys engaged with the problems of clients." 

You can also read the executive summary of the Carnegie report here, but the highlights are: 

(1) Lawyers are best taught through a curriculum that integrates the three pillars of doctrine, skills, and professional identity, rather than having a curriculum that focuses on doctrine, and treats the other pillars as "add ons." 

Ideally, these three pillars (or "apprenticeships") can be integrated in the same course. For example, rather than having a course called "Torts" that focuses on doctrine, a separate course called "Factual Investigation" that focuses on a skill that any torts lawyer needs, and a course on "Professional Responsibility" that covers ethical dilemmas facing such lawyers, these things can all be included in one course, even if not all are covered in depth. One might call such a course "The Torts Process," which happens to be the name of a well-established course book from Aspen (Henderson et al) that uses this approach, and which I use to teach 1L Torts.

(2) The combination lecture/Socratic method is far overused, as is the Langdellian approach of learning the law through the dissection of appellate opinions. These problems are particularly pronounced after the first year.

(3) Law schools are far behind other educational institutions in how they assess student learning, and the extent to which they provide feedback that improves learning outcomes. 

(4) Problems 1-3 are all related.

Posted by Jason Solomon on September 27, 2009 at 03:38 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I couldn't agree more about the bursting bubble. I think students are going to have to become better consumers and really analyze what they're getting for the $100k they spend. I'm optimistic that this might compel law schools to do what Northwestern is doing in its curriculum: http://www.law.northwestern.edu/news/newsdisplay.cfm?ID=191


Regarding your last paragraph, I wish I had your confidence in market-driven institutional change. But, I would suggest that the nearly ubiquitous but largely ignored criticisms of the Socratic method and the Langdellian case method, both of which have remained the epicenter of law school teaching for over a century, tends to undermine your presumption.

Posted by: NewLawProf | Sep 29, 2009 11:34:58 AM

MNO, I'm going to guess that you're a conservative because you presume that institutions naturally gravitate towards smart solutions.

Posted by: anon | Sep 28, 2009 10:17:06 PM

Don't be so quick to blame biglaw firms' preferences. There are substantive differences inherent in law school, and there's just no good reason to expect law students to have any relevant work experience (like MBAs), or relevant undergrad experience (like MDs).

I came to law school straight from undergrad because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Anything else I chose to do between would have done nothing to advance my ultimate career goal. (Well, in the current market, delaying by a couple years could have been a big plus, but that's beside the point...) This is different from b-schoolers, since one can certainly get a job in "business" with a bachelor's degree prior to going back for the MBA. Lawyers, of course, need more from the get-go.

Med students have a similar issue, but as mentioned, take a wealth of science courses in undergrad in preparation for their graduate studies. But there, it makes sense to require these courses for admission because they are building blocks for medical study -- if not required, they'd have to be taken in med school, but most science majors already would have done so, creating a strange first-year split. Law has no such courses. Perhaps an argument could be made for basic American government (taught in high school, most likely) or even some sort of logic course (which is, at any rate, assessed by the LSAT), but I don't think anything quite lines up.

What sort of *relevant* work experiences should adcomms seek? What sort of undergrad coursework should they favor? I suspect neither of these questions has an answer, or else the model would already have changed.

Posted by: MNO | Sep 28, 2009 10:01:36 PM


Thanks. The comment from the hiring committee member at your old firm resonates with me to the extent he/she wasn't referring to people with just 2-3 years of work experience, as is typical of b-school grads. Our respective mileage may vary, and of course we'd need to look for good data, but I'm not aware of many (any?) firms that looked down upon 2-3 years of experience. I'm aware of lots of biglaw firms that viewed that as a plus. It provided more data; showed some maturity; etc. I am aware of considerable skepticism about people who worked 10+ years before going to law school.

I'm a bit worried that the impact of the bursting bubble is still heading toward the law schools and hasn't quite landed yet.

Posted by: John Steele | Sep 28, 2009 8:03:24 PM


On your first point, I think the crucial point is age and not experience. I think law schools prefer to admit students who are younger. I know at one school where a decrease in the average age of matriculants was lauded as a triumph. Thus, it's not distaste for experience, per se, but a desire to matriculate a younger class. The stats showing an average age of b-school matriculants at 26 vs. law school at 24 seems to bear this out.

So, why do we seek to admit young students? Some might argue that it's because the market seeks young first year associates. A member of the hiring comm at my old firm, in a moment of bluntness, said he preferred younger associates because they'd be more amenable to 80-90 hour work weeks than associates with outside responsibilities. Thus, it's not the experience that firms avoid; it's any factor that might pull associates away from billing. A FEW years of relevant experience showing hard work might trump a firms' general tendancy to hire young.

On your third point, I think schools who don't place many students at BigLaw would like to change that. Accordingly, they adapt their admissions practices in an attempt to produce the kind of applicants the market seeks.

The problem with the lamentable trend of prefering younger students is that it makes it more likely that students will lack experience. Without this experience, we must start from square-one (a purely classroom, doctrinal education) rather than having a skills foundation on which to build.

Posted by: NewLawProf | Sep 28, 2009 5:40:52 PM


Are you suggesting that law school adcoms have internalized a norm that originally developed in biglaw -- a norm in biglaw against a candidate having a few years of work experience? Is that the conventional wisdom that is openly discussed within adcoms and law schools?

Also, based on my experience with law firm hiring, at an AmLaw 200 firm and an AmLaw 100 firm, I'm not sure that a few years of work experience is unattractive to law firms. In at least my experience the opposite was true.

Finally, if that is how big law firm think and the law schools have decided to adopt that norm, why would law schools outside the top 40 think that way? The majority of their graduates don't get hired into AmLaw 100 jobs.

Posted by: John Steele | Sep 28, 2009 12:16:14 PM

MAW said: "In law school, many students are, in effect, starting from scratch, with no prior legal or business training or experience."

But, this is a choice that we in the the legal academy have made. Why are we so different in this regard from B-school, where they won't even look at a candidate without two years' business experience, or med school, which requires prior substantive training (as you noted)?

I would suggest that it is not because of some inherrent systemic or doctrinal difference in law. Instead, it is because large law firms, where most law schools hope its students will go after graduation, want young associates who lack any "bad habits" attained from previous employment. I think most law schools seek matriculants either right out of college or right out of masters/ doctoral work; most are less impressed with candidates who have worked a few years.

If we expected law students to come to law school with some practical experience, they would enter not only with more maturity and an actual desire to practice law, but also a modicum of practical skills on which we could build.

Posted by: NewLawProf | Sep 28, 2009 9:54:52 AM

"Unlike other professional education, most notably medical school, legal education typically pays relatively little attention to direct training in professional practice."

Critics of the current law school model often make this argument. I have to say, I don't find atempts to analogize law school to medical school persuasive.

Among other things, to get into medical school, a student has to have already taken a significant number of substantive (non-practical) courses. For example, most medical schools require applicants to have completed at least one full year of each of Biology and Physics and two full years of Chemistry (including Organic Chemistry). In law school, many students are, in effect, starting from scratch, with no prior legal or business training or experience. As a result, more substantive training is necessary, leaving less time for practical training. In addition, those holding medical school up as a model of hands-on practical training often skip over the fact that medical school is four years, the first two of which are devoted to teaching substantive courses.

Can the law school curriculum be improved? Of course. We just need to focus on the true current weaknesses and what can and can't be done.

I discussed this and other aspects of the Carnegie Report at length in my remarks at the recent AALS mid-year meeting on Business Associations ("What Law Schools Should Teach Future Transactional Lawyers: Perspectives from Practice”). They're available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1430087

Posted by: MAW | Sep 27, 2009 6:23:04 PM

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