Law School as Liberal Education
Sherman J. Clark
University of Michigan Law School
Journal of Legal Education vol. 63, no. 2 (2013): 235-46
U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 355
The president of a liberal arts college, if asked why college is worthwhile, would be able to respond on several levels. He or she would certainly say something about the value of the degree as a credential to help students get a job or get into graduate school. In addition, he or she would likely emphasize the professional value of the skills and capacities developed through a liberal education, which can help students succeed at work or in graduate school. More deeply, however, we would expect that he or she would have something to say about the intrinsic value of the education and experience itself — why a thoughtful person might want to go to college, apart from the work it might help one get or do.
I believe that something similar can be said about law school. The legal academy and profession are confronting difficult questions about the value of legal education — about whether and how law school is worthwhile. Most of this conversation appropriately focuses on the commercial and professional value of a legal education because that is the main reason people go to law school — to qualify and prepare for careers. Here, I hope to add to the conversation by considering a set of ways in which law school, like a liberal arts undergraduate education, may be valuable to a thoughtful person apart from its instrumental value in qualifying and preparing one for work. How might legal education help one to thrive, to live a full and satisfying and meaningful life?
I recognize that framing the question in this way may create some skepticism. Indeed, vague talk about liberal education in the face of concrete realities, such as escalating tuition and unclear job prospects, warrants skepticism. Moreover, thinking about law school and thriving requires a willingness to think about what it means to thrive: Who are we to say what it might mean for any given person to live a full and satisfying life? But if we are to be thoughtful about the impact of law school on the quality of lives, we must be willing to think at least tentatively about what makes for quality in life. All we can do — indeed, what I think we have an obligation to do — is to try to be as thoughtful as we can about the ways in which legal education also may be valuable education for life, even if not every student will appreciate that deeper value, and even if it proves more difficult to describe than its more obvious professional benefits.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 13
Keywords: legal education, law school, quality of life, graduate school, liberal arts
JEL Classification: I21, K39
Date posted: November 13, 2013
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