Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shaving down hypotheses about the relative success of the 1L curriculum

RazorLarry Kramer thinks that the first year of law school "works." Doug Berman is skeptical. He fears, with reason, that the "tightly scripted" 1L curriculum "works well only for the rare souls (i.e., most folks who become law professors) who really enjoy figuring out the puzzles of the common law and the legal histories behind modern legal realities." As between the Kramer hypothesis and Doug Berman's alternative, I'll side with Doug. Law professors should never, ever forget that the vast majority of their students lead post-graduation lives that bear almost no resemblance to the secular priesthood that is academia. This is true even at Yale.

Meanwhile, Orin Kerr, despite "agree[ing] with with a great deal of what Larry says," believes that Stanford's dean "is overlooking something important: j-o-b-s." To wit:
By a month into their second year, many students (and almost all at a school like Stanford) are going to have lined up summer jobs at law firms. As long as they don't act like freaks over the summer, they will get full-time job offers. As a result, the rat race is effectively over for many students the moment they accept their summer positions; they pay less attention than before because, well, they can.
Gee. It must be nice to be so professionally secure with so little effort. Again: we must avoid falling into the trap of giving too much credit when people with tenure undertake to evaluate the professional prospects of people without tenure. We need an explanation that covers the substantial population of law students who don't have j-o-b-s lined up after a year at Stanford and a summer on a law firm cruise ship. Last time I checked, these students in theory can, and in practice often do, stumble through their second and third years of law school with no genuine engagement.

The Destruction of Young LawyersInspired in part by Douglas Litowitz's cautionary tale, The Destruction of Young Lawyers, I'd like to offer a hypothesis that is as sobering as it is simple. Suppose that the 1L curriculum did absolutely nothing right. That is an extreme assumption, but extreme assumptions can help us sharpen our focus. This utterly inept first-year curriculum may nevertheless succeed in engaging law students' attention because . . . well, they're paying attention as 1Ls. Given the fatuousness of this horrifyingly bad curriculum, students then play out the string just to survive the second and third years of law school. Dead cats, so they say, seem to rebound after market crashes. The apparent success of the first-year law school curriculum may be comparably illusory. It wins by default because 1Ls -- unlike their 2L and 3L counterparts -- haven't had their spirits crushed.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a perspective from part of the "other 90%" of students. Basically 1L is the only year that matters because law school is structurally designed that way.

As a 2L at Chen's institution who is not:
-interested in academia
-on law review
-working for a 'big' firm next summer
There is no reason for me to care about my grades. Intellectually some classes are interesting. But my clinic and judicial externship experience seem actually useful--- I get to "practice" law. In class, I read about various outcomes that occurred when other people practiced law in a certain way. As for 1L curriculum, I've found legal writing to be the most useful class so far.

11/01/2006 7:31 PM  

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