The Purposes and Methods of American Legal Education

52 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2011 Last revised: 15 Jun 2011

See all articles by David Barnhizer

David Barnhizer

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University

Date Written: March 1, 2011


The best way to represent the focus of the essay’s analysis is by outlining its content. The Purposes and Methods of American Legal Education seeks to suggest the reasons, theoretical orientation, professional, technical and philosophical dimensions of graduate legal education. It examines purposes and strategies for enhancing education while offering a critique of what I consider to be fundamental flaws and assumptions that have inhibited the qualitative development of American legal education. Along with this analysis is consideration of primary methods of teaching and delineation of what the author considers the goals of the curriculum. The coverage of the analysis is most accurately demonstrated by its structure, as follows.

I. Who Are We Teaching and Why? II. A Historical Critique A. Langdell and the “Scientific” Law School B. The Anti-Intellectual Orthodoxy of the American Law School III. “Thinking Like a Lawyer” A. The Meaning of “Thinking” Like a Lawyer? B. Legal Interpretation as Involving the “Original and Natural” Idea of Knowledge C. Lawyers and the “Shelf” of Knowledge D. The Dynamics of Legal Interpretation IV. A Discussion of Educational Methods A. Relatively Passive Educational Methods B. More Active Methods C. Distinctions between Educational Methods 1. Lectures 2. Mediating and Creating Experience, Active Learning and Critique 3. The “Substantive Method” of Clinical Teaching

V. An Outline of Educational Goals and Methods

A. Educational Goals Involving Institutional Analysis and Critique, Social Responsibility, Justice and Systemic Reform

B. Educational Goals Involving Elements of Principled Professionalism, Professional Responsibility and Ethics, and Personal Morality

C. Educational Goals Involving Judgment, Analysis, Synthesis and Problem-Solving

D. Educational Goals Involving Substantive Law

E. Educational Goals Involving Strategic Awareness and Technical Skills

Keywords: legal education, law teaching, law schools, legal philosophy, thinking like a lawyer, educational method, Langdell, legal science, law curriculum

Suggested Citation

Barnhizer, David R., The Purposes and Methods of American Legal Education (March 1, 2011). Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 11-205, Journal of the Legal Profession, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

David R. Barnhizer (Contact Author)

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University ( email )

1801 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115
United States
216-687-2315 (Phone)

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