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The Goals of a Law School Education

AALS annual conference image, via the AALS site.There has been much debate of late over on Law School Innovation arising out of the American Association of Law Schools‘ recent annual conference on the theme of Reassessing our Role as Scholars and Educators in Light of Change. The LSI debate has been focussed in particular on the Plenary Session on Rethinking Legal Education for the 21st Century (see eg, here (including mp3 of the session) and here), which covered similar issues to those raised in my recent post Legal Education, again. To take one example, there was an interesting discussion of the Carneige Foundation‘s report on Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (which I have discussed on this blog). Again Douglas Berman has proposed a hierarchy of goals for law school instruction and serving students:

Law school instruction and serving students should be focused on…

5. helping students pass the bar

4. helping students get better grades

3. helping students learn doctrines and skills needed to be competent lawyers

2. helping students develop insights and abilities needed to be outstanding lawyers

1. helping students enhance talents and options needed to be flourishing professionals.

I’m not convinced that this list would apply without modification in a non-US law school. In the US, students do an undergraduate degree (in arts or science), then study law in graduate school, and finally take a summer crammer course to sit the bar exam(s) of the state(s) in which they wish to practice. In that schedule, many of the broad benefits of a university education can and will be supplied by the initial undergraduate degree, and it is right that a law school should focus on the less intangible and more instrumental goals of helping students to become lawyers. On the other hand, outside the US, students typically study law as an undergraduate subject, and then go to do a further, professional, course to qualify for practice. In this schedule, the university law school must not lose sight of the fact that their degrees will be their students’ source for the general if more intangible benefits of a third level education, and that many of the instrumental goals of legal education will – or at least ought to be – provided in the subsequent professional course. This is not to say that there is no room for practical matters in a university law school (or, for that matter, pace Bruce Boyden on Concurring Opinions, for academic matters on a professional course); I have argued in a recent post that the university needs to have room for both approaches. My point is merely that I would be slow to subscribe to a hierarchy like Douglas’s which seems to me to be too focussed on the instrumental benefits of Law School and insufficiently directed to the general educational benefits of university education. Of course, this in turn raises the question of what a similar heirachy in a non-US – or at least, Irish – law school might look like. I will think on this and return to the issue at a later date, but I leave it now as an exercise for you, gentle reader(s), likewise to think, and perhaps to make suggestions in the comments below.

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3 Responses to “The Goals of a Law School Education”

  1. Fiona says:

    Eoin, I very much agree. I think that for the Irish law school to become completely, or even primarily, vocational would cause enormous problems – first of all, what would become of the broader mission of liberal arts education that can be achieved through legal education, including the objective of ensuring that students become familiar with different theoretical perspectives, engage in critical thinking etc? Secondly, what sense could we then make of the division between undergraduate law school and vocational law school (i.e. King’s Inns and Blackhall)? It strikes me that the distinction would become more or less nonsensical unless we took a medical exemplar to heart and had membership exams for both following undergraduate legal education. I think – as I suspect you do also – that absolute comparisons between US and Irish legal education can be a bit too simplistic; the two kinds of education are really trying to achieve two different things. We are trying to train lawyers in the broad sense of the word; they are trying to train practitioners. This is not to say we ought not to have skills training and they ought not to have critical training, but our different roles within legal education generally have to, I think, be taken into account.

  2. […] The crossed purposes of legal education updates The Goals of a Law School Education […]

  3. […] teach. I have looked at several US examples of developments in legal education on this blog (here, here, here, here, here, here and here, and there’s a good summary of recent developments here). […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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