Sunday, June 24, 2007

Best Practices

My dean recently distributed copies of Best Practices for Legal Education to the faculty. It's not exactly assigned reading so I have not examined it closely enough for a test. What caught the eye of a colleague who then pointed it out to me is the report of a 2005 study of the Arizona Bar conducted by Gerry Hess and Stephen Gerst. One question for judges and attorneys was to rate the important of areas of legal knowledge. Four courses came in well ahead of the rest -- Civil Procedure, Professional Responsibility, Contracts, and Evidence. Those three, along with Remedies, Torts, and Property were the only ones ranked as essential or very important by at least 50% of the respondents. Not exactly an endorsement of substance-heavy legal training or specialized tracks.

Related to this is the response to a question about the most important professional skills for a new attorney. Here several skill ranked quite high. The leaders were "legal reasoning and analysis" and "written communication" with 96% of the respondents listing them as essential or very important.

I could be wrong but I think there is some tension between what graduates say is most important and what current students think they want. What students think they need are clearly stated rules, an absence of ambiguity, nice power-point presentations, and lectures that lend themselves to well-organized notes. In fact, at my school one of the questions on the teaching evaluation form asks whether the teacher "explained ideas clearly." Sound like a great question if you lecture but I wonder if lecturing can assist in developing legal reasoning skills.

But this begs the Moneylaw question. When there is a different, do you give the students what they want or what they need? I think you give them what they need. On the other and, and this is a hunch, I think the trend in legal education is the give them what they want.


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