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Other Problems in Legal Education

Further, many lawyers perceive critical gaps between what they are taught in law school and the skills they need in the workplace. This was the core conclusion of a study by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (Koo, 2007), which found that more than 75% of lawyers surveyed said they lacked critical practice skills after completing their law school education. Today’s workplace demands skills that the traditional law school curriculum does not cover. For example, most attorneys work in complex teams distributed across multiple offices; nearly 80% of lawyers surveyed belong to one or more work teams, with 19% participating in more than five teams. Yet only 12% of law students report working in groups on class projects. Also, legal educators seriously underuse modern computer technologies and computer simulation and networking, even in those settings, such as clinical legal education, that are the most practice oriented, and neither law schools nor most workplaces provide new attorneys with a structured transition between school and practice.

Essentially, the objective of law school education is to indoctrinate students into the legal profession. Questions that challenge the basis of the system are seldom raised, and law students define the problems presented to them within the framework of the existing system. The socialization of law students tends to make them intellectually independent, but at the same time, it restrains them from looking for radical solutions, “for throughout their law school education they are taught to define problems in the way they have always been defined” (Chambliss and Seidman, 1971:99). During law school, students change their political orientation in a conservative direction (Erlanger and Klegon, 1978). It is therefore unsurprising that

legal education seems to socialize students toward an entrepreneurial value position in which the law is presumed to be primarily a conflict-resolving mechanism and the lawyer a facilitator of client interests. The experience seems to move students away from the social welfarist value in which the law is seen as a social change mechanism, and the lawyer a facilitator of group or societal interests.

(Kay, 1978:347)

In response to these criticisms, there is a growing emphasis on interdisciplinary work in law schools, and on the joint degrees described earlier. There has also been a growing emphasis on clinical legal education via legal clinics, also discussed earlier (Schrag and Meltsner, 1998). The idea here is to remove law students from classroom situations and place them during their second and third years in real situations, such as criminal defense offices and poverty-related neighborhood legal-aid offices. Many law students deem clinical education more relevant for perceived social needs, and they believe in particular that it will help them provide better legal services for the poor and other unrepresented groups in society. Clinical education lends itself to being a separate activity and is by nature removed from the law school.

However, in view of the prevailing academic ethos that rewards faculty more for publishing than for teaching, some universities look with disdain on innovations that seek to provide courses that are snobbishly referred to as “vocational training.” Clinical education is also expensive: It is more economical to deploy senior faculty (who earn well in excess of $300,000 at top schools) to teach 150 students in a large lecture hall than to advise and supervise a handful in a time-consuming clinical program.

 
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