Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Over at Prawfsblawg, I weighed in on an ongoing discussion about the implications for law schools and legal education of the crisis / meltdown / downturn / setback in the legal-services business. I wrote:
"Above the Law" has collected some posts dealing with the blog-circulating suggestion that "problems with the Biglaw business model will have major effects on the law school business model." I'm confident that this suggestion is correct. And, what was said at the "WSJ Law Blog" might also be correct, as a predictive matter : "Perhaps the focus will be more on teaching students on how to draft interrogatories than on reading John Rawls. If we’re reading Gerding correctly, law school may become less fun, but perhaps more useful." Again -- maybe so.
A friend passed this prediction along to me, noting that this change "has been a long time coming," and here's what I wrote back:
In my own view, for what it’s worth, it would be very sad if the lesson that law schools took away from all this is that they should become more narrowly technical and practitioner-preparatory in their approach. In my view, law school needs to be *more* interdisciplinary, and the study of law needs to be approached *more* like a humane discipline, than they currently are. The world does not need, really, blinkered-but-efficient-and-proficient technicians; it does need, though, lawyer-citizen-leaders who are well read, ethically sensitive, public minded, and theoretically sophisticated. There are huge problems with the profession, I think, but the answer to those problems is not, it seems to me, for law schools to resign themselves to the relatively unambitious task of providing fodder for the current (or post-crash) law-firm machine; instead, we need to produce people who have the ability and intellectual resources to transform the profession and help the profession to be what it should be.
This sounds, I admit, abstract and Ivory-Tower-ish (almost a caricature of out-of-touch tenured academics' self-important musings), even elitist. I am uncomfortable with that. To be clear, I think *practicing* law is (or, at least, should be) both "fun" and "useful" (it has certainly be fun for me!). The disdain for everyday law practice that one sometimes encounters in the more rarified precincts of the academy is, at best, off-putting. My sense, though -- what I was trying to express in my note to my friend -- is that the *practice* of law, properly and richly understood, is . . . more (deeper, bigger, harder) than I think people give it credit for. It is absolutely the role of good law schools to produce good lawyers; I'm just suggesting that the problems with the structure of the profession have not shown that the way to produce good lawyers is to shrink our understanding of what it means to be a good lawyer. The big-firm model of legal-services delivery seems messed up and dysfunctional, no doubt. I'm pretty sure, though, it's not because students have been reading too much Rawls. (Well, maybe it is. But it's not because they have been reading too much Jacques Maritain or Thomas Aquinas. =-) ).
What should we, who are engaged in the Catholic-law schools project think about all this?