Reforming Legal Education, or not

Aula Maxima, UCC, via their siteSurprisingly, according to WordPress Blog Stats, the most popular page on this blog yesterday was The Future of Irish Legal Education, about the second annual Legal Education Symposium hosted by UCC‘s Faculty of Law and sponsored by Dillon Eustace Solicitors. Now, either this blog really does have a serious reader or two, or I need another stats package. Even if the latter is more likely, just in case the former is true, here are two more developments (heading, inevitably, in opposite directions) for the Legal Education junkie(s) out there.

First, Stephen Griffin of Tulane, writing on Balkinization under the heading The Carnegie Report: Can Legal Education Be Reformed? discussed subjecting the Carneige Foundation‘s report on Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (which I have discussed here and here on this blog – the second post discusses the recent Future of Legal Education Conference | excellent blog analysis here | papers here) to detailed analysis and finding it wanting. Some extracts:

This semester I helped sponsor a faculty reading group at Tulane to go through Educating Lawyers, the much-noted Carnegie Report on legal education. I imagine other law schools have been doing the same thing, reading the report in an earnest way. Our faculty group was intrigued, but mostly unimpressed by the tone and substance of the report. …

In reading around on the web for reactions to the report, I note many seem to absorb the report’s emphasis on weaving practice skills into legal education but ignore the points made about emphasizing a moral orientation/values of professionalism and the cogent critique of that most hoary means of assessment, the law school final examination. Apparently there is no other form of professional education that relies on a single means of assessment at the end of the semester. I’ve never been a fan of finals, but that makes me an outlier among my peers.

The Carnegie Report has a twin, the Best Practices for Legal Education [pdf here] volume written by Roy Stuckey and others. I’l report in when we finish it, but I’m not sanguine that my colleagues will have a more favorable reaction. …

Second, of the many schools taking Educating Lawyers … and Best Practices … seriously, one has recently begun to make headlines like this: Washington and Lee Embarks on a New Third Year Curriculum: Embraces the Carnegie Report and Best Practices. The post begins:

Washington and Lee University School of Law is dramatically changing its curriculum by creating a new third year curriculum devoted to professional development through simulated and real-client practice experiential learning. Influenced by the Carnegie Report, Educating Lawyers, and Best Practices for Legal Education, the new third year curriculum integrates legal theory, doctrine and the development of professional, ethical judgment necessary to the development of professional identity. This is one of the most comprehensive reforms in legal education undertaken by any law school.

More coverage to similar effect: Dirt Lawyer | Inside HigherEd | Law21 | Law School Innovation | National Law Journal | Nuts & Boalts | Out of the Jungle | PR Newswire | PrawfsBlawg | TaxProf Blog | USA Today | WSJ Law Blog | WLU reactions.

According to the WLU website (see also pdf of the plan, and a long press release):

The Washington and Lee University School of Law is embarking on a dramatic revision of its law school curriculum, entirely reinventing the third year to make it a year of professional development through simulated and actual practice experiences. … As Chief Justice Marshall chided in McCulloch v Maryland, “We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.” For our purposes now, let us never forget that it is a curriculum we are expounding, a curriculum for professional legal education: an education that should meet the evolving needs of the public, the profession, and the international rule of law.

Kudos to my colleagues at WLU. Where they are leading, may Law School education follow, even in Ireland – to end where we began, as UCC’s legal education symposium last December demonstrated, there is an equal need for reform of Irish Law Schools (even if the detail of the reforms might differ).