Reforming Legal Education to Prepare Law Students Optimally for Real-World Practice
18 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2013 Last revised: 11 Dec 2013
This article synthesizes major points in the October 2012 symposium of the University of Missouri School of Law Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution, entitled "Overcoming Barriers in Preparing Law Students for Real-World Practice." There is a growing consensus that American law schools need to do a better job of preparing students to practice law. Teaching students to think like a lawyer is still necessary but it is not sufficient for students to act like a lawyer soon after they graduate. Although legal education has evolved in recent decades, the legacy of the Langdellian system makes it hard to combine instruction in legal doctrine, practical skills, and clinical experience. Recognizing the general problems of legal education is fairly easy. Solving them can be quite hard. Law schools serve many constituencies that have demanding and diverse interests. This article catalogs a long and growing list of difficult pressures that law schools must cope with. It provides an overview of general processes and possible goals that schools may adopt in undertaking educational reform efforts. It then describes some options for improving practical education of law students. It concludes that although educational reform is very difficult, it will be necessary for most law schools to undertake some reforms, in part for survival in a challenging environment with shrinking enrollments, innovative competitor law schools, and employers demanding better-trained graduates. Reforming legal education to produce more effective lawyers is not only in law schools’ self-interest but it is also important to fulfill commitments to our stakeholders including students, alumni, legal employers, courts, clients, and society generally.
Keywords: legal education, reform, curriculum, admissions, Langdell, economics, market, employer, organizational change
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