Consumers of Legal Services Force Change in Law School Curriculum
The academic template for law schools has been around, with very little change, since Harvard Law School branded the so-called "case method" in the late 19th Century. This traditional legal pedagogy was memorialized in the 1973 movie, The Paper Chase.
The Socratic case method calls for students to read and break down cases that illustrate a particular, albeit ancient or esoteric, legal principle. A law professor calls on students who must answer hard questions about the cases they have briefed. The law students are forced to reason and think on their feet, like a lawyer in a courtroom.
The Socratic case method does not teach the student, however, how to handle contemporary problems faced by real-life clients in today's unforgiving marketplace. Today, the cost-conscious consumer makes every effort to avoid the courtroom.
In our era of sustained economic downturn, the traditional law school model is under attack from two sides: there are very few legal jobs waiting for the legions of debt-burdened graduating law students; and clients generally do not want to see first or second year lawyers' time on their monthly invoices.
In response, many law schools have attempted practical innovations, introducing a "legal writing across the curriculum" component, and developing various legal clinics where students represent actual clients. The effort has been to produce market-tested graduates.
Former Vanderbilt Law School Dean Edward Rubin has isolated the following areas where corporate clients are demanding better training from the academy:
- A better understanding of modern litigation which now includes an e-discovery component, diligent fact gathering, and a settlement process designed to avoid court;
- Deeper knowledge of transactional law, including how to properly draft, evaluate and challenge a contract;
- How to perform basic corporate due diligence in the modern government regulatory context;
- Stronger legal writing skills (age-old complaint); and
- Getting a clue about the economics of a law practice.