A Vast Image Out of Spiritus Mundi: The Existential Crisis of Law Schools
10 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2014 Last revised: 27 Mar 2015
Date Written: August 15, 2014
In her recent book, Teaching Law: Justice, Politics, and the Demands of Professionalism, Robin L. West articulates that the crisis is not merely as the The New York Times and other media outlets have described it — not entirely about the faulty business practices of law schools or the lack of practice-oriented teaching in law classrooms. Instead, the crisis lies at the existential core of law schools. The original nineteenth-century set-up of the American law school and that model’s continued existence today have contributed to an identity crisis for law schools, revealing its major incompatibility with how the law is currently understood and practiced.
This Review considers the findings in West’s enlightening and well-research book — where she observes how legal formalist ideals of lawyering established a law school model that led the academy astray from what ought to be the academy’s values on teaching, scholarship, and the profession. Such a wayward trajectory, which if left ignored, will harbor serious ramifications about the how the academy thinks about justice and politics in relation to the law. At the root of West’s law school reforms is a critical overhaul of the law school curriculum to reflect the teaching of legal knowledge that demonstrates normatively what it means to be a modern lawyer — and not just what it means to “think like a lawyer.” This Review builds on her findings and advocates that in addition to reconsidering what law schools teach, the academy must also ensure that students can transfer that learning into a more comprehensive lawyering experience.
Keywords: Robin West, Teaching Law, Justice, Legal Education, Law Schools, Legal Education Crisis, Langdell, Law School Curriculum, Law School Pedagogy, Legal Education Reform
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