Monday, April 12, 2010


What should be required in law school?

Generally, in law school curriculums (this is not about Baylor, specifically) the following classes are required in the first year:

Civil Procedure
Criminal Law
Legal writing

In the later years, the following is required at some point:

Constitutional law
Criminal Procedure

Is this out of date? How might curriculums be restructured to better fit modern practice?

Shouldn't ethics come first?
Here's how I'd create a law school curriculum:

(1) Legal Practice -- what is law? How do the court systems work? What is procedure? What are cases? What kinds of work do attorneys do?

(2) The Study of Law -- the case method, restatements, secondary sources, and how law is made. Basically, something that teaches you how to prepare yourself to study the law properly so you retain it. I think I understood how to study law about my third quarter, and my grades markedly improved from there on out. If I weren't saddled with my first two quarters, my performance would've been much higher.

(3) Introduction to Civil and Criminal Procedure -- these procedure-based classes talk about the basics, from initial filings to appeal.

(4) Legal Research -- where to find what you need, and how to do so efficiently (this is my number one complaint with other lawyers)

(5) Legal Writing -- how to turn that research into a product you can put your name on.

(7) Basic, first year common-law subjects like Contracts, Property, Torts, Criminal Law

-- End of First Year --

(8) Advanced Civil and Criminal Procedure -- a more in-depth examination of how to apply the law that you have learned in a practical manner.

(9) Higher Concepts in Law -- Constitutional law, jurisprudence and legal philosophy, legal policy-making, and ethics, including seminar-like studies of the local state legislature, the federal legislature, and the Supreme Court.

(10) Legal work management -- split this into two tracks, trial and transactional. Have lawyers break down for students exactly how to do the work of a lawyer, much like Baylor's Practice Court program.

--End of Second Year--

(11) Practical Courses -- clinics, externships, etc.

(12) Electives and courses dealing with specialities -- these would be up to the student

---End of Third Year--
I like Lane's suggestion quite a bit. A "What is Law" class would have helped me out immensely!

--Evidence is usually a required course, isn't it?

The problem I have with law school was that so much was theoretical. Fascinating stuff and after almost 20 years of practice, NOW I sort of get what the Torts prof was talking about. I could have used a lot more practical information.

I would have like to have been taught how to put the concepts into practice. I have learned more about Civil Procedure, torts, and evidence actually practicing law than taking the classes.
IPLG -- I should've been more specific. Evidence is part of the Practice Court program.

There is something to be said about learning while doing: the minute details of criminal appellate practice, for example, are not something that could reasonably be covered in a law school course. I've learned a lot more by doing than I ever would by sitting in a class.

On the other hand, the most valuable skills I possess for that practice are my legal research and writing skills. Occasionally, I might have cause to remember something like the Blockburger test off the top of my head, but nine times out of ten someone wants more than just, "oh yeah, I remember that from law school. Here's what the law is!" They want citations and highlighted case printouts. Because I know where to find them, and how to do things like harmonize pluralities and dissents, or to look for trends in how courts have been ruling on a certain issue, I'm able to far better represent my client than knowing, as I do, the elements of a manufacturing defect in Texas, or the importance of HLA Hart's legal positivism in the history of legal philosophy.

Teaching us how to be lawyers is more important than what lawyers should know, since, for the most part, we're just going to go look up whatever it is we ought to know before the hearing or whatever.
Most of my time is spent writing motions and briefs and managing large document review projects, often involving electronic information. In retrospect, advanced electives in those types of dealing with those sorts of issues would have been helpful.
I honestly believe that classes in client development, where to find clients/work, building and maintaining the client relationship, and how to handle a file in an efficient, responsive, and responsible manner would all be practical classes that most 1st year lawyers have absolutely zero understanding of.

I don't know how you turn those subjects into classes, but it sure would help. Especially for those going into solo practice.
Agree w/RRL: Law in Practice, with a client counseling/billing component, as a 3rd yr course.

Ethics comes in our 3rd yr and I liked that, by then we can put it all together and weren't just focusing on the Socratic method and basics of caselaw. :)
I could use more instruction on how to walk like a playa or a pimp. Or both.
You didn't take Counseller's "Pimpin' Ain't Easy" in your fourth quarter? I thought everyone did.
My 2ยข:

Law school is supposed to make us into a certain kind of person: the kind of person who thinks clearly and thoroughly. Any practical legal knowledge we pick up is gravy. I read once that the first year classes are/were planned with that in mind. That is, some of them focus on code-based law, some on rules-based law, some on case-based law, and some on practice-based law. It teaches you how to think within the system that we've been tweaking for almost a millennium.

The pre-med curriculum is sort of like this. The idea is to turn you into a scientist so you don't become a quack.

I think our current system might need to be tweaked but not completely scratched. (For example, 3d year Practice Court should be a national requirement.)

And I think ethics as usually taught is crap. Most ethics classes are taught as either (a) another law class, focusing on the rules of professional conduct or (b) as a casuistic listing of things we should or shouldn't do. Instead, ethics classes ought to focus on the philosophy of ethics and how to think about ethics. Just in case we might encounter a situation that neither the RPC nor our case outlines covers.

And and ethics should come last, after you've had all your first-year ideals beaten out of you.
1. Foosball

Everything else is just details.
Check out this recap on a panel at Harvard that addressed this point. Professor Osler - Good thing you did not have five people on the panel when you were there!
I liked the piece on how the corporate counsel was saying that all fresh law grads are worthless. Really, Mr. Hoity-Toity Middle Aged Guy With a Napoleon Complex? Well, I've got this wonderful law school down in Hicksville, USA, Texas, that would make you eat those words.

Of course, I'm not sure I'm cut out to be an associate at a BigLaw firm. I mean, researching and writing memos is hard! It's a good thing no one ever entrusts us junior attorneys with big things like briefs or oral argument.
I've always thought that if Baylor wants to excel and get to the next level, they ought to do two things. First, eliminate the quarter system. Just let folks enter in the spring semester if you want to continue to have flexibility and lower admission standards so you can still let the likes of me in here. The quarter system works a detriment to students in many ways - we constantly have to explain it to employers, and the farther away the employer from Waco, the more bewildered they are when you explain that you only have 1 __quarter__ of grades (cf. semester) to show at OCI. Plus, it makes profs work around the clock teaching. I know at Baylor they appreciate your hard work, but we're still an academic institution, and it would be nice to see more Oslers cranking out books, articles, CNN interviews, bizarre trials of religious figures in local churches, etc. If profs had more time, they could build more of a national reputation as a scholar as well as a great teacher, which only can bring good things to the school.

Second...sit down, this might be a shocker...eliminate the requirement to take the third-year Practice Court program. Introduce a comparable Transactional Practice program. Require one or the other. There. Everyone goes through a brutal cap at the end of the school. The transactional program puts students in real-life negotiation of deals, teaches them how to structure mergers and acquisitions, play with debt to make parties come to terms, be creative with financing and structuring repayment schedules, etc. Basically what tons of attorneys do day in and day out (Sadly, not all try cases on a weekly basis these days). Even big law litigation associates would benefit from this as a lot of times they are cleaning up the remnants of a big deal gone wrong, and the subject matter of their practice (if they are bus. lit. guys) are secured transactions, negotiable instruments, etc.

RLL is right about teaching client development. Important in a big firm too. People graduate from law school, grind away for 5-8 years and start realizing they have no book of business... and therefore no reason for the firm to make them partner... or even to keep them on when there are now cheaper lawyers 3-5 years out of school in the firm.
IANAL (though there are several generations of lawyers in my family), and I never went to law school...

Seems to me that our culture has a mentality that my side "must" win, and that any kind of compromise (in my view, finding a win-win solution) is the same as "losing."

I get that in a criminal case, one side or the other must win. Is there no room, though, for working for a solution that can benefit both sides of an issue?
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