“The tenured and tenure-track professors form the core of a law school faculty. At most of our schools, those faculty teach doctrinal courses and seminars; they also devote considerable time to research. Over the years, we have added clinical and legal writing professors to our faculties, but they rarely are part of the core. These writing and clinical professors are paid less, usually lack tenure, and bear fewer expectations for scholarly research…
I would flip this structure. If I were starting a law school, I would hire experienced legal writing and clinical professors as the core tenure-track faculty. At existing schools, I would move as quickly as possible to that structure. Why? The legal writing and clinical professors are the ones who know best how to teach what we claim to teach in law schools: how to think like a lawyer.
Legal writing professors have analyzed the components of thinking like a lawyer, developed the vocabulary for explaining that process to students, and created hundreds of well designed exercises. Where does a student really learn how to analyze and synthesize cases? In a class of 75-120 students, where the professor calls on one student at a time for 150-200 minutes a week, offers little individualized feedback, requires no written product until the final exam, and tests students on issue-spotting during a 3-4 hour exam? Or in a class of 18-20 students, where the professor offers a sequence of assignments designed specifically to teach analysis, synthesis, and other critical reasoning skills; provides frequent individualized feedback; requires several written assignments; and grades students on their ability to produce well reasoned analyses of a problem that requires research, analysis, and synthesis of new cases and statutes?
The traditional law school classroom, with its case method and socratic questioning, is better than pure lecture at teaching critical reasoning. But it is still a woefully inefficient and ineffective process of teaching students how to read cases and statutes, how to synthesize those materials, and how to apply them to the facts of novel problems. During the last thirty years, our legal writing programs have developed at a remarkable rate. They now surpass other first-year courses in their ability to teach critical thinking. If you want a professor who knows how to teach legal analysis to first-year students, and who has studied the pedagogy of teaching those skills, then choose a legal writing professor.
The same is true of clinical professors in the upper level. These professors know how to build on the reasoning skills that students developed in the first year. They don’t greet students with the same casebook/socratic method of instruction. Whatever its merits in the first year, that style offers diminishing returns in the upper level and bears little relationship to how practicing lawyers learn new areas of law….”
Readers of this blog will be well aware of my commitment to (for want of a better way of putting it) “practical” legal education, both in terms of coverage (subject matter that my students have more than a cat in hell’s chance of encountering in practice) and in terms of skills-based outcomes. I also believe in the kind of balanced legal education eloquently outlined here by Susan Carter Liebel. So as a “traditional” tenured faculty member myself, albeit something of a British outlier, I don’t take issue with Prof. Merritt’s provocative posting, nor with her advocacy on behalf of my legal writing and clinical colleagues. However, it would be good to see some acknowledgment of the fact that there are “traditional” / “doctrinal” faculty in law schools who are not wedded to the “traditional law school classroom, with its case method and socratic questioning” and are committed instead to the kind of integrated approach to course design, classroom instruction and student assessment favoured by the Carnegie Foundation’s Report. What’s needed IMO is an integrated faculty to deliver an integrated curriculum.
The Walters Way may be a bit quiet during April as Adrian has a busy travel schedule (he has some classes in international bankruptcy law to teach in NYC for starters). You can keep track of him on twitter at @walters_adrian.