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Teaching the practical in law school

When I mentioned to a co-worker with a law degree I was blogging about a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education about law schools moving toward more practical skills training, her reaction was swift and succinct. "It's about time," she said. The story highlights Washington and Lee University School of Law, which last year overhauled its 3L year to focus on "practice-based courses, using simulated and real clients, in specialties like international, securities, tax and criminal law." The curricula includes a dozen "problem-based courses, some taught by high-profile practicing lawyers, that simulate actual legal cases," according to the Chronicle. Students are also required to complete 65 hours of law-related service and a semester-long program on professionalism, according to the Chronicle. The school's director of admissions said hiring associates notice the difference.

2 comments

  1. You and your friend are a little out of date on what’s happening in law schools.
    Just about every school in the country has an extensive practice based curriculum, and many schools require students to take one or more of this type of course. Ironically, students often resent the requirement and complain about the courses. As for the W&L program, it was the “brain child” of a recent dean at W&L who strong-armed a reluctant faculty into going along with it and then bailed out about two-thirds of the way into its implementation to become president of a small southern university. A lot of people who know the situation well think of it as a monument to opportunism as much as curricular innovation. It’s no surprise that someone at W&L would describe the program as a success, what else would they say – that they were left holding the bag? As for its effects on W&L’s ability to place its students in Biglaw jobs, there’s no need to take the Schools’s word for it. The National Law Journal has just published its annual survey ranking the best feeder law schools for Biglaw (i.e., the NLJ 250), and W&L’s numbers were underwhelming. It ranked 50th in the survey, for example, well below the University of Maryland School of Law School, to use a local case, which ranked 38th (sending more than twice as many graduates to Biglaw as W&L). You really ought to do research on stories making empirical claims and not rely on gossip, distant memory, and the random musings of citizens on the street. You could mislead people into thinking that their stereotypes were fact.

  2. Pushkin seems a little unnecessarily nasty here.

    I think that law school could safely cut out the entire third year, or make it optional. This will never happen because law schools generally are essentially profit-making institutions, even those that claim to be non-profits. You need a law library but most of the materials have lasting value; you need some lawyers (easy to find) to staff the faculty, and that’s about it. No cyclotron, no million-dollar grant money from the DoD or NIH.

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