Why don't law schools teach students how to be lawyers?





...Law schools’ aversion to all things vocational has been much debated, both inside and outside the academy. But critics are fighting both tradition and the legal academy’s peculiar set of neuroses.

“Law school has a kind of intellectual inferiority complex, and it’s built into the idea of law school itself,” says W. Bradley Wendel of the Cornell University Law School, a professor who has written about landing a law school teaching job. “People who teach at law school are part of a profession and part of a university. So we’re always worried that other parts of the academy are going to look down on us and say: ‘You’re just a trade school, like those schools that advertise on late-night TV. You don’t write dissertations. You don’t write articles that nobody reads.’ And the response of law school professors is to say: ‘That’s not true. We do all of that. We’re scholars, just like you.’ ”

This trade-school anxiety can be traced back to the mid-19th century, when legal training was mostly technical and often taught in rented rooms that were unattached to institutions of higher education.

A lawyer named Christopher Langdell changed that when he was appointed dean of the Harvard Law School in 1870 and began to rebrand legal education. Mr. Langdell introduced “case method,” which is the short answer to the question “What does law school teach you if not how to be a lawyer?” This approach cultivates a student’s capacity to reason and all but ignores the particulars of practice.

Consider, for instance, Contracts, a first-year staple. It is one of many that originated in the Langdell era and endures today. In it, students will typically encounter such classics as Hadley v. Baxendale, an 1854 dispute about financial damages caused by the late delivery of a crankshaft to a British miller....

“We should be teaching what is really going on in the legal system,” says Edward L. Rubin, a professor and former dean at the Vanderbilt Law School, “not what was going on in the 1870s, when much of the legal curriculum was put in place.”



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