Thomas Powell once famously said, “If you think that you can think about a thing, inextricably attached to something else, without thinking of the thing it is attached to, then you have a legal mind.” This well-known quotation has been running through my mind recently as I have been observing the (recurring) debate about how long law school should be in the United States. In particular, I have been thinking about it as a result of a gut feeling that the ‘2 v. 3’ debate is largely occurring within a vacuum, with not enough attention being paid to the current (beleaguered) state of the United States’ higher education system as a whole. So, casting aside my legal mind (at least for the moment), I want to raise a few questions, over the course of a few posts, about the larger system we have constructed are dismantling; this ‘larger system’ serves as a feeder system for law schools (in their present incarnation) and, as a result, seems to be something inextricably attached to debates concerning them.
I have lived in a number of different countries and have participated in a number of different ways of ‘doing legal education.’ I say this only to emphasize that I am not particularly invested in the outcome of the ‘2 v. 3’ debate. In other words, I do not think there is a right answer to it, but I am also skeptical that it is the right question in the first place. This is to say that I believe there are some questions about legal education—and higher education in the United States more generally—that are rarely being asked and should be.
I’d like to begin with a sort of ‘big picture’ problem with undergraduate education in the United States —as I see it and as I have experienced it; the United States is, however, a huge country with much variation—and then think about how that undergraduate problem poses important dilemmas for law schools who then have to ‘deal’ with what contemporary undergraduate education gives them. This ‘big picture’ problem concerns many, many law students’ lack of exposure to political theory, history, sociology, and other disciplines which help make up what we call the ‘liberal arts.’ Rather, what I often see are incoming law students who—to no fault of their own—have majored in fields like marketing, finance, and accounting, or even physical therapy.
I’ll end here, for now, but I think such an instinct belies an inattention—encouraged in our increasingly market-oriented undergraduate education—to questions of power, resistance, diversity, and, more generally, why it has been so hard for human beings to ever ‘just get along.’ In other words, an inattention to some of the fundamental questions animating a liberal arts education.
I hope everyone has a good Labor Day weekend and I look forward to the discussion.