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March 11, 2014


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Seems like a great college course, or, perhaps, a course well-suited for "graduate students in History" and conducted by faculty in that department.
Interested law students might be permitted to attend.
Playing the violin while the heat rises all around the legal academy is, well, distracting.
Not to say the music isn't enchanting. And meaningful. And important.
It is simply the case that playing this music isn't lawyering.
This excellently designed series of posts is pitching course(s) of marginal utility to lawyers. Sure, an argument can be made that this exercise would be of some benefit to some persons attending law school. But that argument would apply to almost ANY field of rigorous study.
(Hence, the misguided hiring at law schools of late, seeking out persons who specialize in ANY field other than law based on the claim their field of study "intersects" with law (a claim that could apply to nearly EVERY field of human inquiry).)
At this point in the history of legal education, the course described and courses like it should be offered in other departments of the university (History, Journalism, etc.)
Law schools need to go back to thinking about lawyering and preparing their students to be lawyers. A "well rounded" background in the liberal arts may be a great criterion to measure applicants to law school, but it is not properly the principal purpose of a legal education in an American law school.

Jason Solomon

I'm sympathetic to anon's claim that law schools need to focus on lawyering, but I think this course -- which sounds very cool to me -- actually would do that much better than most upper class courses by having students practice: (1) working in teams; (2) designing and executing factual and legal research strategies; and (3) presenting material in creative and compelling ways. It's legal history but also a "skills" course. Very smart.


Good points. However, as stated above, the trick here is to see that almost any rigorous activity satisfies various aspects of "skills" training that can be claimed to relate to lawyering.
For example:
(1) working in teams;
Yes. This, and football.
(2) designing and executing factual and legal research strategies;
Yes. This, and every scientific pursuit.
(3) presenting material in creative and compelling ways.
Yes, this, and journalism too.
The overinclusive nature of claims of "intersections" makes law school a roof under which lots of profs who purport to be teaching students to be lawyers are not doing that, and really, don't know how to do that.
There is a crisis now in legal education. THis crisis hasn't been caused by the economy alone. It isn't BigLaw, and it isn't the "scam bloggers." These excuses don't wash.
Is the solution to this crisis a stubborn refusal by the legal academy to face the truth: that losing touch with the practice of law has had dramatically negative consequences?

Alfred L. Brophy

Anon, thank you for participating in this conversation. Your contributions improve this blog and the debate about legal education more generally.

Elizabeth is suggesting some ways that studying history can be made more relevant to law students. Elizabeth is thinking about collaborative work that draws on legal knowledge and develops a set of skills including research, interviewing, and writing. Could this be done by people without any legal training? Perhaps, but not easily and not as well.

To take a personal example here. When I was working on the Tulsa riot of 1921 a lot of my data came from the lawsuits filed by riot victims and how the riot represented the breakdown of the rule of law, as well as the administrative and legislative responses to the riot and the military tribunals set up in the early 1920s to investigate the Klan in Oklahoma at that time. Those records could have been researched -- but rarely had been -- by the many historians and journalists who'd looked at the riot before me. One of the things that I emphasized was the role of official actors in the riot, which is a theme of particular importance if we're trying to put this into a legal framework (though it is a topic of less importance to historians).

I'm not sure this is the best thread for working through the nth iteration of who'e to blame and in what proportions for the employment crisis in the legal profession. I think courses that provide rigorous writing and research experiences for students and give them an opportunity to prepare white papers can be very helpful and meaningful educational experiences.

I am going to think some more about your comments.


Prof Brophy
I thought about the possibility that questioning the efficacy of a practical course based on "history" writ large might suggest that your work, and the work of others, is not meaningful, important, valuable and of great interest to me and I'm sure many others.
So, let me say, without hesitation, that the work you do, and the way you do it, is a inspiration to many, including me. I've found you to be courteous, scholarly, insightful and basically, if I'm reading your posts here and your work right, a very honorable person and productive member of the law academy.
You deserve respect.
In another place, Elizabeth has posted a response to the questions I raised above. I suspect my concerns were anticipated, and her response is thoughtful. I may post a comment or two there.
I'll conclude here by saying this: I don't think the crisis in legal education relates only to one factor: employment prospects factor in, but, as you probably know, my belief is that the American community is underserved by attorneys (see, e.g., a recent piece in the New Republic agreeing, and calling for "Judicare.")
My overall sense is that law schools have lost a sense of mission. In my view, that mission is decidedly not to replicate a liberal arts education, or attempt to incorporate all the other departments of a university under the roof of a law school. Here is where, I'm sensing, we may respectfully disagree.
Every aspect of human life in this country is addressed, in some manner, by "the law." The practice of law and participation in the legal institutions of our society requires the exercise of a deep variety of skills, and is made more effectual by reason of a traditional liberal arts education. These truths must never, in my view, mean that law schools lose touch with reality: and that reality is that law schools, for almost everyone who attends them, are meant to prepare students to serve others by way of participation in the legal system that affects all of our lives so significantly.
The course described above presupposes "a mix of graduate students in history (or other social sciences) and law students."
Law students should certainly be able to attend such courses, offered by the relevant departments of the university. This course does not, as described, even require any background in law school at all. As such, it is not, in my view, a course best offered as an upper division law school course.

Alfred L. Brophy

Thank you, anon, for the kind words.

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