Over at Concurring Opinions, Frank Bowman, who I’m happy to say teaches at my alma mater, has a good post about legal education, well worth reading. Jeff Lipshaw at Legal Whiteboard has some thoughts of his own on the subject.
I have nothing much to add to Professor Bowman’s piece, and don’t have the answers to the questions Jeff raises. But I do want to address one point that Professor Bowman raises. He makes and almost immediately dismisses this point:
One could fairly argue that law schools should never have gotten into the skills training business in the first place. What was good enough for Langdell should be good enough for us. Teach ‘em basic legal doctrine and the intellectual skill of legal analysis and leave the rest to the first years of practice.
Yet that is an option. The reason Langdell’s approach was so effective is that nobody had to go to law school to join the bar. Only students with the resources to pay for three years of university education and forego three years of earning a living at legal practice took the Harvard (or any other law school) curriculum. They presumably found the three years rewarding in preparing them for the leadership roles in the Boston and New York bars to which they aspired. The Langdell approach is only bad if we add two things to it: (1) all potential lawyers must do it, and (2) it alone is enough training to permit one to practice law.
Note that if we get rid of those last two wrinkes — both which have been added since Langdell’s time — the great Socratic law school that disdains teaching the nuts and bolts of routine practice makes perfect sense. Once we get rid of the idea that law school is both necessary and sufficient for law practice, we can turn legal education back to its core values: tenure, scholarhship, and faculty governance.