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Author Topic: Why is law school taught the way it is?  (Read 5832 times)

bulletproof

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Why is law school taught the way it is?
« on: February 18, 2006, 04:14:00 AM »
I’m interested to hear what people think about the way law school is taught.  I initially contributed to this subject in a different thread, the following is essentially those thoughts, but updated. 

I feel that the pedagogy of law school is so completely screwed as to be next to unbelievable if you weren't seeing it yourself.  You spend an entire class mostly listening to classmates say nothing at all with a professor that usually gives no indication of what the hell is good info and what is bad.  The result: you figure it out yourself.  Law school, at least the 1L year of it, is essentially self-taught.  I have no doubt you could do just as well by reading primers and E&Es on each of the subjects and then just bouncing hypos off your classmates.  If you listen to most of your prof's you'll see they are saying a whole lotta nothing about the nuts and bolts of most of the subjects.  Those of you that have yet to take a test may be surprised to find out that taking notes of everything that came out of the prof's mouth was a complete waste of time.  I don’t advocate merely “teaching to the test” but I do advocate not wasting hours of students study time reading cases when they could be used for doing hypos or updating outlines.

In any other subject, including med school, the profs actually attempt to teach you the skills needed to do well.  They teach them right there in class... by lecturing... by telling you things that you can write down and remember and then use to understand, by doing lab work.  Not by making you read 12 pages of case to learn a one-sentence rule.  Sure case briefing is important at first... but it quickly becomes a waste of time for any purpose other than being able to look smart when you get called on. 

As for the theory that it needs to be this way to keep all the toms, dicks, and harrys, etc, out of the field of law - I don't see why.  The GPA/LSAT hurdle narrows the field down and the school's pickiness does as well.  The people that get in after that, are you seeing a lot of them fail out??  Cuz I'm not.  Pretty much you get into law school and hang in there and you will graduate it.  It is not weeding people out, so there is no reason to think that if the classes actually tried to simply give you the information you need, that less qualified lawyers would be the result.  In fact, I'd argue the opposite would be. 

If you haven't ever read an Aspen Examples and Explanations book on one of the core 1L subjects, take a look.  Listen to the "lectures" on a given topic and then read the chapter from the book.  See if it doesn't make you wonder why they couldn't "have just said that".  It’s “hiding the ball” at it’s finest.

Course this doesn't apply to every single prof, some are a better at trying to teach, or at least trying to be better at it.  But it is a pretty universal observation of the field.

cuteprincess

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2006, 03:02:26 PM »
I TOTALLY AGREE WITH WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!  I find it a complete waste of time for me to sit in class just to hear student talk about nothing.  The professors don't teach you anything and if you don't have a side studyguide book to learn from, you are screwed on the exams.  It's  a whole lotta nothing.  You know, I tell the other student that briefing is a waste of time.  I don't learn anything from it.  Just like you said, "it's just so that students sound smart when called upon." but my fellow classmates me bite my head off and say, "it's to help us learn to issue spot." blah, blah.  Issue spot?  Apparently you folks are reading close enough to the case because when called upon, you miss the issues completely.

I just wish we could be lectured to so that we understand what the heck is going on.  I found myself confused beyond belief.  Just like you said, when exam time rolls around, nothing came from what the professor said.  We learn about the evolution of law and how it evolved from one case to the next but when the exam happens, it's all pure black letter law.


tjking82

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2006, 04:55:46 PM »
I'm not sure I agree with you two.

Professors certainly could give more law, but what's the point?  You don't pay $40k/yr to have some professor read elements to you - you pay him to try and get you to learn to think like a lawyer.  And that's what professors are doing when they give you crazy hypos and have you try to work it out yourself.

After all, when you go to a law firm, you're going to have to relearn the law anyway, because it is always changing.  Not to mention that half the time you'll be dealing in an area of law where you never took a class.

Here's a skill worth having:  A client comes into your office and opens his mouth and complains about his employer for half an hour, and you have to be able to recognize which things he's saying are legally relevant and which are not.  THIS is issue-spotting, and THIS is what law professors are trying to teach you.


In conclusion:  Law school professors aren't ignorant; they know you're using commercial outlines to learn the actual law, and this doesn't surprise them.  But knowing the law isn't enough to make you a lawyer; if it were, people wouldn't need lawyers, they'd just buy legal books and represent themselves.  The critical talent professors are trying to teach is the ability to find legal problems.

LostMyMonkeys

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2006, 12:05:22 PM »
I disset with the first two posts and strongly concur with the last.

Lostmymonkeys:
dissenting in part and concurring in part.


Seriously. I am glad some of you don't brief cases. Helps separate the wheat from the chaff.

I use the E&E's too. I listen to PMBR lectures in my car, I read and brief my cases to no end. And guess what, I know only learn the law, but I learn to be a lawyer.

Nice ass won't get you through your whole life. When you turn 30 you better have a personality

bulletproof

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2006, 10:00:36 AM »
Cute Princess and I are on the same page here, but I also appreciate what you are saying.  You noted:

And that's what professors are doing when they give you crazy hypos and have you try to work it out yourself.

You're right - but I'm not complaining about the hypos.  In fact, I mention how working on them is what we should be doing instead of reciting cases and going over the facts, etc.  Hypos are where the money is.  Reading the case is fine, it does help your ability not only to absorb the legal terms and appreciate the development of law, but to spot the issues.  But there is little to no value in briefing them.  It takes quite a bit of time if you are really carefully briefing.  When I brief, I book brief and can actually follow the prof's discussion right along the margin of my book because I have hit all the points he or she is trying to tease out.  It does wonders for making me feel smart and allows me to be cool when called on, but thats about it.  It didn't actually make me any better at spotting the issues as a whole or solving hypos unless they are identical to the facts of the case.  But it did eat lots of time.  Time that could have been spent making a solid outline or doing hypos with a study group.  That is my point. 

I think there is a great deal of the way classes are taught that seems to try and make the profs look brilliant and the students feel stupid.  I see little need for that.  My ideal class would probably be no more than the prof asking for the name of the case and the basic facts and then asking for the issue and rule developed.  The rest of the time could be spent covering the real world application of that rule and hypos built around it to spur our brains and stimulate the ability to "think like lawyers". 

Well, most of this is just a dream anyhow.  Law school has been taught the way it is for generations.  The prof's had to go thru it and human nature says most will continue with it "cuz that's how I had to do it".

Thanks for a very professional "disagreement" by the way.

bulletproof

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2006, 10:11:52 AM »
Seriously. I am glad some of you don't brief cases. Helps separate the wheat from the chaff.

I curious why you think so.  How do you feel your briefing a case vs. someone not is really creating a difference?  I'm not saying you're wrong - but asking you to elaborate.  I read the cases, I understand them, I know the issues and pull out the BLL.  I fail to see why briefing them on the off chance I get called on is making me any better.  If i do get called on I can go over the case and it will be obvious I read and understood it, I just might not be able to zoom in on everything immediately since I haven't noted all my findings.  But come test time I will do a little better (meaning non-brief me vs. brief me) since I had more time to beef up the outline and work on hypos, read the E&Es, etc.  So my question I guess is this: Other than allowing you to look like a brainiac in class, how does the briefing really help you?  Can't you get what you need from the case without it?  Also, I'd wager there hasn't been single test where you have ever needed to look at a brief other than perhaps to get the rule and use a case name for an extra point.  Having enough time to do that is pretty rare tho.

jacy85

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2006, 10:39:48 AM »
My ideal class would probably be no more than the prof asking for the name of the case and the basic facts and then asking for the issue and rule developed.  The rest of the time could be spent covering the real world application of that rule and hypos built around it to spur our brains and stimulate the ability to "think like lawyers". 

This is the way most of my classes are taught, and the way the socratic method should work.  The problem is not with the method, it's with individual teachers.  Some just underestimate the amount of preparation needed to run an effective socratic class, some get off on the power trip. 

However, even when it is done right, people still complain.  "why does the prof keep giving an example, and then change one fact?  That's such a waste of time."  I hear it at least once a week.  Changing that one fact is usually key to understanding the "real world application," as you put it. By leading you, via questions and hypos, to understand why that one fact makes a difference is where the value of coming to class lies.  Assuming, of course, you have a good professor.

Overall, when people complain about the socratic method, most complaints should directed at the prof who's butchering it.

bulletproof

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2006, 11:04:15 AM »
However, even when it is done right, people still complain.  "why does the prof keep giving an example, and then change one fact?  That's such a waste of time."  I hear it at least once a week.  Changing that one fact is usually key to understanding the "real world application," as you put it. By leading you, via questions and hypos, to understand why that one fact makes a difference is where the value of coming to class lies.  Assuming, of course, you have a good professor.

I agree with you.  The interaction with hypos are, as I have said, what is valuable from class time.  It gets you thinking and prepares you for what the test is going to be about.  I could just do without all the long winding recitation of facts and covering every aspect of the courts reasoning (especially since you'll likely find 10 courts that looked at it the other way and a dissent on the very opinion you're reading).  I like getting the BLL out of the case and then using hypos to understand that area of law. 

Texas

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2006, 04:41:15 PM »
To quote a church-goer's defense of their worship service:

"It's not tradition, it's just how we've always done it."

cuteprincess

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Re: Why is law school taught the way it is?
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2006, 04:50:06 PM »
BulletProof, are you my twin because we think exactly alike.  Those in my class who fight me re: the idea of briefing keep telling me, it's to train you to think like a lawyer but come test time their philosophy doesn't work.  I end up getting a better grade than those "academic scholars" even when I HATE briefing cases.  Briefing cases helps you to learn issue spotting but the real deal issue spoting is in hypos.  I love hypos for they make me think about what are the issues.  All law exams are hypos so I don't see why we don't concentrate on hypos and multistates.

Briefing takes sooooooo much time to do for that one or two line of issue and holding.  I too book brief and usually when the teacher is talking about the case, I hit most of the issues, rules and holding in the case.  It makes me feel happy that I know what I'm doing but it soooo much time to get finding the issues.