September 26, 2007
Who Should Do "Skills Training" of Lawyers?
Posted by Gordon Smith

My modest proposal for law school reform prompted an email discussion among my former colleagues at Wisconsin. I was particularly interested in Steve Hurley's contribution, which I reprint below with permission:

We began to modify curriculum in response to criticism from the marketplace: that we were not adequately preparing lawyers for its needs. When that criticism is offered, it ought be listened to. What Smith suggests is that the core curriculum can be covered in two years [it can]; and poses the question of whether the "skills" curriculum is best taught by a school or in the marketplace. He thinks the latter; especially when considering the cost. Long ago, we substituted schools for apprenticeships as the premise for the practice of law. Few would argue that that was bad. But, is not the teaching of "skills" the academic institutionalization of an apprenticeship? If so, is it the exclusive way that a lawyer ought be prepared? Did we throw away too much of apprenticeship when we saw that schools could better teach the core curriculum? We can offer an approach to skills which the marketplace can't; but, so too can the marketplace offer an equally valid approach which we cannot. Thus, for example, we coordinate, just as Smith suggests, with prosecution and defense offices to offer our students a place in the market in which to learn trial and criminal practice skills. In doing this, don't we recognize the validity, at least in part, of Smith's suggestion? And ought we not explore further ways in which to do this?


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Comments (3)

1. Posted by Susan Cartier Liebel on September 26, 2007 @ 19:35 | Permalink

Excellent. I'm so glad you posted this very thoughtful and intelligent response. Thank you.

2. Posted by Gordon Smith on September 26, 2007 @ 23:01 | Permalink

You are most welcome, Susan. I thought Steve offered a nice framing of the issues.

3. Posted by Anon on September 29, 2007 @ 17:34 | Permalink

The trouble is that once the "skills" are removed from the curriculum, there's very little justification for requiring a law degree in order to join the bar. Writing, research, and advocacy, not abstract legal thinking, constitutes the majority of legal work. If this is to be taught in the "marketplace," then why not say that anyone who can teach themselves the skills, take BarBri and pass the bar exam can practice law, and leave "academic" law schools as expensive finishing schools for those who want to teach, or perhaps join the judiciary.

Or put more bluntly: if we're going to remove any trace of actual professional, as opposed to academic, education from the curriculum, leaving it to the market, what right do we have as a profession to prosecute, fine, or jail those who learn the skills better than we do, set themselves up in that marketplace, and serve our clients better at less expense?

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