Perhaps it is because this blog has been discussing the need to change since 2009, so many of our contributors have been working to reform and improve legal education for decades and the Carnegie Report and Stuckey’s BEST PRACTICES FOR LEGAL EDUCATION both celebrated 5th birthdays earlier this year. Maybe it is because our faculty and administration spent Friday evening gathering with our graduates at a Dean’s reception to provide support and succor to our July Bar Exam takers. Whatever the reason, I can feel myself becoming very frustrated with the constant barrage of johnny-come-lately and unproductive descriptions of the legal education crisis.
Being a strong and longstanding advocate for reform of legal education, shouldn’t I be feeling triumphant, or at the very least, justified that what we warned about came to pass, that people are finally paying attention? Instead what I feel is extremely protective of my current students, recent graduates and other poor souls who read each new assaultive journalistic “contribution” with fear, depression and hopelessness. This morning , when many of us opened our NYT Sunday Review – in textured paper form or in handy online edition – we were faced with Sunday Observer Lincoln Caplan’s piece “An Existential Crisis for Law Schools” and his opening line “July is the cruelest month for recent law school graduates.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/an-existential-crisis-for-law-schools.html?_r=1&ref=opinion Caplan notes that state bar exams scheduled next week are “make or break” affairs. He then goes on for the next ten paragraphs repeating the oft-told story about how the economics of legal education has changed for the worse and quoting Dean Frank Wu of Hastings Law: ”This is Detroit in the 1970′s : change or die.”
I think what is really cruel is publishing this piece right before anxious law graduates need to summon up all their positive energy to take an exam which in NY has 22 subjects and for which one must take an expensive bar course to learn the “gaming” of how to pass this test. I think it is cruel to blithely assert that law schools fail to “train lawyers for public service or provide them with sufficient preparation for practical work” in that same article when this is the time to ask why doesn’t the bar exam have a clinical component or why don’t we have a public service or practical alternative to a largely multiple choice test? If we really want to train civic professionals who deal with real people would we not make the examination of who becomes a lawyer more like the practice of law? I am more interested in hearing about the practical opportunity this “crisis” gives us to change the outdated practice of written bar exams. Maybe then, July would become a time of challenge – to demonstrate recent law graduates skills, values and knowledge -rather than cruel ritual.
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