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by Vault Law Editors | July 07, 2009


Paul Lippe’s Time for Law School 4.0is both a harsh indictment of U.S. legal education and a proposal for its overhaul.  It opens provocatively:

If I need some insight into the future of medicine, I might head over to Stanford Medical School. If I wanted to learn about likely directions in finance and hedge funds, I might visit Penn's Wharton. If I were looking to make investments in computing, I might arrange a tour of a lab at MIT. If I decided to learn something about where legal practice, law firms, and legal departments will be in 2014, where would I go? Not to law school.

Relative to other professional schools, law schools are extremely disengaged from professional practice-- they seek neither to understand nor to influence it.  

First, Lippe identifies three distinct phases of legal education: 1) the apprenticeship system (a/k/a “Lincoln’s way”); 2) the professional school (the case method and classroom discussion): and 3) “where law schools have grown more distant from the profession, and the legal academy has come to define itself as primarily engaged in a scholarly pursuit (like, say, literature or history), as opposed to a professional pursuit.”

The myriad problems with Phase 3 include

• Heavily indebted graduates without marketable skills (“[although] students who get the higher-paying law firm jobs achieve good salaries much faster than medical students, their time to professional independence is longer. This is not because law is more complex or riskier than medicine, but because legal training is inferior.”)

  An emphasis on appellate decision making and an indifference to understanding clients.

  Empirical weakness. (“Almost every argument in law school is a hypothetical grounded in abstraction and unproved in experience.”)

Lippe defines the challenge to law schools: “[T]o produce fully functioning lawyers who can quickly become economically viable--not just proto appellate clerks.”

Among the elements of his 4.0 prescription:

--An accelerated curriculum (no more than a year of case method, a year of clinical, and then a year of externship with subject area focus, along the lines of medical school)

--More practice orientation in teaching (more adjunct faculty who are active practitioners)

--Better use of technology (“In a networked world, the ability to get someone who knows the answer to help you is a far more valuable skill than the ability to hypothesize your own answer.”)

--A move back to mission-centered management. (Lippe: “In a recent meeting with law school deans, I asked, ‘If you decided the purpose of law school was to maximize the comfort and income of the faculty, what would you do differently?’ The answer: "Nothing.’”)

Finally, this poetic comment to the article, by Louise Harmon of Touro Law Center, is worth reprinting in full:

I have to agree with much of Lippe’s indictment, at least as it applies to the more traditional law schools in the upper stratosphere of legal education---the air can be very thin among the elite. Innovation, however, often takes place in the moist earth, at many smaller law schools such as Pierce, Washington and Lee, and in my own workplace, Touro Law Center where we have an innovative court observation program in the state and federal courts across the street, required practice modules attached to substantive courses, extensive clinical programs and externships, and a Public Advocacy Center under the roof of the law school where our students can meet their pro bono requirements volunteering with one of 16 public service agencies. So my only complaint about Lippe’s article was the scope of his complaint---he should consider lowering his eyes to see what interesting flora are coming up from the ground.

                                                                   -posted by brian


Filed Under: Law