« Forrester Fellowship - Tulane Law School | Main | Call for Papers - Northwestern University Law Review Empirical Legal Scholarship Issue »

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Before Law Schools

It is an important time to think about teaching law. After attending a recent teaching workshop, I noticed that (for whatever reason) I had focused on my experiences teaching doctrinal courses. My primary courses on administrative law and sales/contracts cover essential subjects. These classes span the public-private divide and incorporate my background in telecommunications litigation, as well as my scholarly interest in interpretive questions raised by regulatory statutes and contracts.

But doctrinal classes are only part of the teaching I do at Loyola. I also run a fantastic student fellowship program through Loyola’s Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies. In addition to substantive courses on competition policy and consumer protection, our fellowship program facilitates other types of learning. We introduce our fellows to practicing lawyers through mentoring programs and monthly lunches, and fellows also engage in legal writing projects with opportunities for multiple rounds of faculty comments and revisions. These opportunities to connect with practitioners and develop writing skills are also integral to law students’ education.

My initial focus on doctrinal classes tracks a historical distinction between formal legal education and reading the law. Lawyers in the United States did not always enter the profession primarily by attending law school. Reading the law (à la Kim Kardashian) was once the norm. Aspiring lawyers who read the law in the 18th-19th centuries apprenticed in law offices, where they gained valuable exposure to professional traditions and practicing attorneys. Although this system did not do a good job of teaching broader legal principles and sometimes left apprentices alone while their teachers tended to clients, it was how most lawyers were trained. Even many Supreme Court Justices never attended law school. I explored this phenomenon in Schooling the Supreme Court — an empirical analysis of a period when Justices’ educational backgrounds were far more diverse than they are today. (I am indebted to Mike Zimmer for the title of this article, and fear I will never publish another article with a title that I like as well.)

Today law schools offer doctrinal courses, training in legal writing and other critical skills, and experiential learning. Some historical methods of teaching law, such as rambling lectures delivered by a professor sipping whiskey at the long-defunct Litchfield Law School, have gone by the wayside in today’s engaged learning environment. Law schools have also become more attuned to producing practice-ready lawyers.

My research suggests the importance of formal legal education. Historically, Justices who shared the benefit of formal legal education voted independently of the ideologies of their appointing presidents. Votes of Justices without this background were significantly predicted by ideologies of their appointing presidents. Thus, presidents lost political influence when they appointed Justices who had attended law school. Although my statistical analysis provides too blunt a measure to explain exactly why this was the case, the correlation between formal legal education and apolitical voting was significant. It suggests the value of learning about the law as a discipline with the potential to transcend the outcomes of presidential elections.  

My historical research also provides reason to think that the value of legal education extends beyond doctrine and skills taught in the classroom. Law schools currently operate as gatekeepers and control who has the opportunity to enter the legal profession. When entry into the legal profession turned on apprenticeships, these opportunities were most readily available to white men from affluent families. Today’s system of higher and legal education has expanded opportunities for women and minorities, although it still seems to favor privilege and lack optimal diversity. Law schools have made some significant strides in diversity. This year, the editors in chief of law journals at the top 16 U.S. law schools are women. Greater diversity in the legal profession and its leadership is another aspiration that the legal academy is uniquely situated to promote.

Posted by Christine Chabot on February 13, 2020 at 05:09 PM in Legal History, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

Only because of "Greater diversity in the legal profession and its leadership" did the Fairiness Doctrine finally fall and was Rush Limbaugh allowed to have a radio show.

Posted by: Rand Pauline | Feb 13, 2020 7:58:20 PM

Thanks, you raise a good point.

Posted by: Christine Chabot | Feb 13, 2020 6:49:45 PM

One caveat to consider. The apprenticeship system did tend to replicate existing social inequalities, but it was also informally permeable. If you look at the early entrants from disenfranchised groups into the profession, it was because it only took one practicing attorney to mentor them. For wading into the literature on the history of legal education, Auerbach's Unequal Justice is a must. The actual drive to formalize legal education at the turn of the century was driven by the desire to exclude new social groups by raising educational requirements. There is a very large gap about what people said (and later generations of lawyers restates for self-interested purposes) about what virtues they were seeking from formalization. Your evidence on appointment may still hold, but their is a great of contingency to issues of access (especially once you control for economic status of new entrants with other diverse attributes).

Posted by: Contingency | Feb 13, 2020 5:54:17 PM

Post a comment