We hear much about the “crisis” in legal education: steep declines in law school enrollments and graduates unprepared for practice who cannot find jobs. Proposals to address the crisis enjoy wide support and are poised to dramatically change the landscape of legal education. These reforms are harmful to law students and the legal profession, placing the legal academy “under erasure,” as Jacques Derrida would say. They erase the academic nature of law school by: (1) reorienting it from an academically-grounded legal education towards vocational training, (2) requiring just two years of study for the J.D. degree, (3) allowing graduates of non-ABA accredited law schools to sit for the bar examination, thereby rendering accreditation a toothless mechanism for ensuring academic quality, and (4) gutting faculty scholarship.
Legal education is broken today because it fails to prepare students for the demands of modern law practice, which is more complex and interdisciplinary than ever before. Rather than reshaping legal education into a two-year program of vocational study, we need a three-year program that is more robust, one that teaches the core first-year subjects and applications of other disciplines (e.g., accounting, economics, psychology) to everyday law practice, exposes students to a reasonable range of specialty areas, and integrates skills training (e.g., client counseling, advocacy, drafting) throughout the curriculum. To accomplish these goals, I argue that law schools should adapt the medical school model to legal education. This would entail a curriculum that provides a comprehensive foundation in basic legal subjects and legally relevant other disciplines, culminating in a series of clinical rotations where the basic doctrinal and interdisciplinary knowledge is applied in practice. I also explain why we should not gut support for faculty scholarship in the hopes that doing so will cut costs and encourage professors to focus on teaching. Contrary to popular claims, engaged scholars are better teachers, and legal scholarship contributes meaningfully and substantially (though often in ways not readily apparent) to law practice.
Richard E. Redding,
The Legal Academy Under Erasure,
Cath. U. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.edu/lawreview/vol64/iss2/7