Connecting the Dots in Legal Education

The New York Times has a new opinion on educating law students, this time from Stanley Fish from Yale.  His opinion focuses on the art of law and states that the study of legal scholarship in his course gives students an understanding of what is at stake in a legal proceeding, and provides a basic understanding of the “game”.  Once the game is understood, a practitioner can then learn the tactics outside the school over the course of a career.  One important quote from his opinion reads:

That is, law is more than an aggregation of discrete tactics and procedures; it is an enterprise informed by a vision of how the state can and cannot employ the legalized violence of which it is the sole proprietor. That vision will come into view in the wake of a set of inquiries. What obligations do citizens owe one another? How far can the state go in enforcing those obligations? What restrictions on what the state can do to (and for) its citizens should be in place? How do legal cultures differ with respect to these issues?

I agree with Professor Fish. Theorizing about the practice of law and the jurisprudence of law is important to a full understanding of what it means to be a lawyer.  In order for students to understand “the game,” however, requires students to connect the theory to the practice. That is exactly what reflective clinical experiences during  law school should do and are doing.

Clinics were not started to help student learn the tricks of corporate law, or make partners more profitable.  Making students “client ready” – a favorite term of Albany’s Interim Dean Connie Mayer – can involve making them think about John Locke’s theory of the “social contract” or about Dickensian notions of the “worthy poor”. 

It has never been “either/or,”  For a time, theory and doctrine was so privileged in legal education that acquiring excellence in the profession was trivialized instead of appreciated. By bringing legal education back in balance, we will not abandon the kind of engaging, reflective thinking which good teachers, good clinical experiences and Stanley Fish offers. 

As Tiny Tim reminded us, “God Bless us Everyone!”

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