Thursday, October 26, 2006

Let's mess with taxes

James Edward Maule strikes again. His comprehensive response to my post on tax law in the first-year curriculum, Wisdom from Whatever Source Derived, is so comprehensive that a proper reply on my part would demand an entire week of posts. So here's a first step.

Come the revolution, both Texas and legal education will be littered with dead armadilloes in the middle of the road

Let's mess with taxes. Indeed, let's mess with the entire curriculum. This is a variation on a challenge posed by my MoneyLaw colleague, Doug Berman in his thought experiment on reinventing the first-year curriculum. What if law school looked like this:
  1. Christopher Columbus Langdell is dead, and we are not. So let's devote huge chunks of the first year to methods, research, writing, advocacy, and problem-solving. As matters stand, we purport to teach research and writing using problems in substantive areas that our students haven't encountered. More of the same won't hurt.

    I hasten to add that the first year would also be an excellent time for courses that bridge the liberal arts with legal education. Legal history (especially if taught with a keen sense of economic, social, and cultural history) and jurisprudence would fill the bill. And for students who managed to dodge the liberal arts altogether as undergraduates, the first year of law school would not serve as a complement to a liberal arts background, but rather as a substitute.

  2. Students so prepared can devote their second year to substantive areas of law. They won't need eight semester hours to master contracts and torts in separate courses. By this point, for instance, the students will be sophisticated enough to grasp everything from consideration to promissory estoppel to the transformation of warranty into products liability in a single four-credit package.

  3. The third year can be an extension of the second year's emphasis on substance, but with a twist. Now would be an excellent time to relate everything that the students have been learning to the contexts in which they will actually be working. This is the time for clinical experiences, for journal work, for "capstone" courses. Yes, I'm partial to novel subjects such as disaster law. But wouldn't it also be nice, for instance, if our students could learn ow to handle all the issues that might arise in a single line of productive enterprise? Being able to advise a business owner on every aspect of her or his line of work would be a valuable talent. Being able to leverage a law school education into entrepreneurship would be even better.
I don't pretend for a second that this plan for messing with taxes has a prayer of being implemented. But we can start by tinkering at the margins. When the baseline is continued adherence to an obsolete curriculum that bears little if any relation to the lives that most of students will lead beyond graduation, we have very little to lose. And perhaps, just perhaps, we have a world to win.


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