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September 23, 2014


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Your first point really hits the nail on the head. Part of the reason that so many critics ridicule the Langdell method is that it is so impractical and ignores what lawyers really do. No lawyer worth his salt would ever -- EVER -- do what is asked on an essay exam or the bar; namely give knee-jerk issue spotting and conjectural answers to a litigation question. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to be able to spot issues, but the analysis and developing facts are properly done only after researching controlling and recent cases from your jurisdiction on the point.

It's part of the reason that "reading the law" in a firm could produce better (or happier) lawyers. You'd actually see if you like what lawyers do all day before committing your time and money to the profession.

Orin Kerr

I think "knowing the drill" is a big part of a lot of jobs. An auto mechanic has to know the parts needed for a job, how long it will take, and what complications might arise and how to limit them. A restaurant owner needs to know how to get all the moving parts of goods and services working at the same time in harmony. In each context, the hard question is whether "the drill" is generalizable and stable enough that it can be helpfully taught in a way that won't become obsolete quickly and that applies to a wide range of employment settings.

On that issue, Ray writes;

The core methodology of process design can be taught in an intellectually rigorous and useful way. The cohort of scholars teaching those courses will have the skills and tools to study how legal services are delivered, and propose improvements in both process design and the substantive law itself to drive out the deadening costs of inefficient process.

It might be helpful to say more about this.

Michael Perlin

Ray, thanks so much for the shout-out. My piece -- published as Michael L. Perlin, “Baby, Look Inside Your Mirror”: The Legal Profession's Willful and Sanist Blindness to Lawyers with Mental Disabilities, 69 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 589 (2008) -- has been cited in support of applications by disability rights groups seeking to limit the scope of questions asked about mental health treatment by state bar admissions committees (the work done in this context by Disability Rights Washington -- see -- has been particularly important), as the intrusivity of questioning has led many law students to ignore stress-related problems so as to avoid explaining to bar interviewers why they "needed" mental health treatment. I believe that is part and parcel of this entire inquiry.

I'm currently expanding on some of the thoughts in the Pittsburgh piece in a paper I'll be presenting next month at a Society of American Law Teachers meeting, on How Teaching about Therapeutic Jurisprudence Can Be a Tool of Social Justice, and Lead Law Students to Personally and Socially Rewarding Careers: Sexuality and Disability as a Case Example, where one of the points I make is this: "There is powerful evidence that legal education is overtly harmful to the emotional and psychological well-being of many law students." I am convinced there is a causal connection between that and the issues you so carefully raise here.


It's quite refreshing to see discussion on how law schools can better train students to do the sorts of things they actually will do upon graduation. Unfortunately, too few in academia know that that truly entails so the likelihood of change seems slim.

Ray Campbell

Thanks for the comments. It really helps me to get them.

Orin, let me think for a bit on how best to approach the question you raise. I think it might be more of a short post than a long comment as it requires going into some background.

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