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Acting Like Lawyers

40 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2010 Last revised: 15 Nov 2011

Drew Coursin

Perkins Coie LLP

Date Written: June 3, 2010


In the past, learning to “think like a lawyer” was enough to succeed in law school and beyond. Those days are gone. Leaner economic times have made legal employers hungry for better-qualified candidates. Educators and practitioners alike turn a critical eye to recent law school graduates, and find them lacking. The traditional assumption that good law students make good lawyers has crumbled. The blame for students’ inability to demonstrate essential lawyering skills falls squarely on law schools’ shoulders.

Calls for reform in legal education span more than thirty years, from the ABA’s Cramton and MacCrate Reports, to the Carnegie Foundation’s effort to spur change. Although some forward-thinking educators moved away from traditional methods, most law schools maintain a “business as usual” attitude. Legal education remains a lumbering behemoth of theory and outmoded pedagogy. Employers need capable lawyers, students need skills, and neither group can succeed in a grim economy unless legal education changes. The solution lies in action. Teaching law students to act like lawyers requires a significant shift in focus. This Comment describes the necessity and feasibility of reform, explores the evolution of legal education, and then turns to medical education for a novel framework for teaching legal skills. Finally, this Comment introduces one version of an adaptable, practical skills-based legal rotations model, which law schools may use as a template for future innovation.

Keywords: Legal education, Carnegie, MacCrate, medical school, pedagogy, apprenticeship, experiential

JEL Classification: I2, K

Suggested Citation

Coursin, Drew mname, Acting Like Lawyers (June 3, 2010). Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2010, pp. 1461-1500, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Drew Coursin (Contact Author)

Perkins Coie LLP ( email )

United States

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