Educating Lawyers

by Paul Maharg on 21/07/2007

Been reading the Carnegie Report on law teaching and learning in the States (see here, and see here for the brief online report).  The online report is good, but it doesn’t do justice to the book.  I think this is one of the best books on legal education to be published in a long time, and here’s why.

First, it’s educationally literate — with a figure as distinguished as Lee Shulman on the author listing it’s what you’d expect.  Concepts such as cognitive apprenticeship are given due attention, and applied accurately to the experience of law students. At times I felt it was a bit too slow in explanation, but that’s a lot better than too much jargon. 

Second, the book is frank about the shortcomings of the J.D. as well as its strengths.  The power and flexibility of Law’s signature pedagogy (Shulman’s term) in the US — the case-method — in inducting students into legal analysis, reading and writing is acknowledged; its endless repetition through three long years is deplored.

Third, it’s based on field work.  Just not enough of that around in legal education — the findings of the UK Nuffield Report on the dearth of empirical sociolegal research applies as much to legal education too.  I cd take issue with not reporting student words, just synopsising them (though I can appreciate that in a large lecture setting it wd be difficult to get permissions), but what’s there makes for compelling reading.

Third, the book has a transformative agenda.  Having just written a book entitled ‘Transforming legal education’ you’d guess I might agree with that.  The Carnegie book takes the first courageous step — the important and public acknowledgement that legal education has to change at fundamental levels in our society.  It is too elitist, too bound up in academic culture, not sufficiently engaged in social concerns.  I like to think that academics like me have something useful to say on the subject (though perhaps that’s just vanity) but the key point is that legal education, as with art education or teacher education or any other type of education is too important to leave in the hands of specialists.

I’m beginning to review the book, so bits of what I have to say will be appearing in this blog…  Comments welcome!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gene Koo July 24, 2007 at 00:07

It truly is a tremendous work, and I found myself nodding along as I recognized the shortcomings of my own J.D. and why I lost interest in law school after my first year. The chapter on values was particularly important to me. I also believe that their recommendation of the “integrative” approach is crucial, since if executed it neatly lops off the typical defensive line against turning law schools into “trade schools.”
Still, any report’s weakness is always its implementation — after all, recommendations are not self-executing. The key to any change will be to build a powerful constituency and coalition whose interests are bound to that change. With a massive turnover of professors looming, perhaps this would be the time — but change won’t come with passively waiting but rather active organizing. I hope the reformers are up to the task.


2 Paul Maharg July 31, 2007 at 18:17

Agree, Gene. It’s the problem of implementation. What happens next, after the book? I guess there ought to be a conference or two, with streams dedicated to aspects of the book. But after that the real work begins. Practical action plans may not be a good idea, but it wd be useful to see a road map for change, or some kind of ChangeCentral website taking examples of good practice forward in some way or other. Maybe even the funding of small scale examples of change in key institutions, with the results and the project resources with which staff achieved those results to be made available for others to read, copy, adapt if they want. And the provision of cascading support networks for people who want to engage in further change…
And I guess that there ought to be links with what’s happening in other disciplines, other jurisdictions. I was really pleased to see how the Foundation drew upon its extensive experience across professions to compare legal education with other types of professional education. But I think it could have done better in cross-jurisdictional comparisons. I’ve just finished a book on legal ed. which draws a lot on a Deweyan pragmatist model, and of course discusses some of the remarkable educational literature from US law schools. Set side by side with UK legal educational traditions and research directions, there are many fascinating comparisons and contrasts, and many points where the two broad traditions can learn from each other ways to resolve their present-day dilemmas.


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