Legal Education: A New Paradigm

Bynkershoek Law Review, pp. 2-18, 2012

18 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2013

See all articles by Ernst van Bemmelen van Gent

Ernst van Bemmelen van Gent

IUS Commune Research School; Utrecht University - Faculty of Law; Bynkershoek Research Center on Legal Education; The Hague University - LLB Program Dutch Law (HBO-Rechten)

Date Written: May 1, 2012


In the past, between the years 1800 and 1950, legal education was a local, generalist, apprentice-based, non-corporate, and highly academic self-explanatory affair. Most of the legal professionals regarded themselves as involved in ex-post private law and criminal litigation/trials. Legal theory and the curriculum, correspondingly, could focus mainly on local private and criminal law contained in approximately 10.000 pages.

At the start of the 21st century a number of things have changed. Around 100 specialized areas of legal theory and practice have emerged, along with millions of pages of new material. The sources of these new rules are increasingly international and regional, especially in Europe. The legal profession has also industrialized. The sole practitioner is outnumbered by legal professionals that are mass producing legal services and legislative instruments, as well as adjudicative products. Client demand has changed the emphasis to be more focused on ex ante: preventing disputes. Employers are expecting more than ever that graduates are well on their way through this increased volume of material, plus well versed in critical thinking, advocacy and research techniques. Moreover, in the countries where legal education is subsidized, universities are expected to educate more pupils for less money, plus accepting lower entry qualifications favoring historically less privileged groups. This process includes attempts, again especially in Europe, to harmonize the higher education degree structure across states.

Law school traditions have not responded to these developments yet. The curriculum and teaching techniques have remained largely the same as in the 1800 to 1950 era.

The time is ready to change legal education drastically. To guide and justify that change, a modern, 21st century paradigm is required, addressing what the legal profession entails, what issues the legal profession deals with and what legal competences are required, to solve legal problems cheaply, efficiently and in a client friendly manner. Such a new paradigm should also provide the necessary assessment criteria evaluating, which law graduates may be permitted access to legal practices, including the various professional bodies admission procedures but also corporate hiring practices for junior and senior positions.

This article provides such paradigm. It describes and defines the legal profession along four types of legal practices that exist all over the world. It identifies the “top 55 legal issues” that are most fundamental to any legal practice. It selects 50 areas of law that are necessary for instruction in law schools. More importantly, it argues which 6 legal skills/competencies should be the guiding tool for curriculum and assessment design, as well as the criteria for recruitment, life-long learning and career development in the legal profession. Furthermore, the new paradigm for legal education integrates the global ambitions (UN, OECD, G20) in the fields of sustainable development and rule of law into the daily reality of the legal profession, legal education and legal research.

Keywords: legal education, comparative law, internationalization of law

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19, K49

Suggested Citation

van Bemmelen van Gent, Ernst, Legal Education: A New Paradigm (May 1, 2012). Bynkershoek Law Review, pp. 2-18, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Ernst Van Bemmelen van Gent (Contact Author)

IUS Commune Research School ( email )


Utrecht University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Janskerkhof 3
Utrecht, 3512 BK

Bynkershoek Research Center on Legal Education ( email )

Groot Hertoginnelaan 3
The Hague, 2517 EA

The Hague University - LLB Program Dutch Law (HBO-Rechten) ( email )

Johana Westerdijkplein 75
The Hague, Zuid Holland 2521 EN

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