Best Practices for Legal Education in Monterrey, Mexico

The States in Mexico are, one by one, revising their criminal law and criminal procedure codes to change from an inquisitional, written system to an adversarial system with oral trials. Of course, this transformation is a major change in their legal culture. And, the law school leaders in Mexico understand that this shift requires that they change their approach to legal education. Lectures about legal doctrines made sense when lawyers were only called upon to prepare legal documents. Now that lawyers who represent criminal defendants will have to present opening arguments, direct examinations, cross examinations and closing arguments, law students need to develop different skills. I was very privileged to travel to Monterrey, Mexico with Professor Catherine Carpenter of Southwestern Law School to provide a training session about teaching to prepare students for the practice of law in an adversary system. The session was organized by Maestro Manuel Caloca at the Casa de la Cultura Juridica de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion (The House of Judicial Culture of the National Supreme Court).

This gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk about Best Practices for Legal Education. I pointed out that the whole book is available on line. As for our training, Catherine and I role played a Socratic class. She did a superb job of questioning me about a criminal case involving involuntary manslaughter. I tried to throw her a couple of curve balls, but she caught them and effectively tossed them back. She is an extremely engaging teacher in the best tradition of Best Practices and I was very pleased that she was the model of the Socratic Method. I then had the opportunity to talk about clinical legal education and skills training through use of simulations and in the tradition of leaning by doing, we used the case Catherine taught through the Socratic method to have them prepare a direct examination and a cross examination of the defendant. I was pleased to see how engaged and motivated they were. They had a lot of questions about teaching and it was obvious that they all care very much about teaching. One of the law teachers described how she used skits to get the students to learn about the adversary system and her students prepared videos of their skits that she can use to teach other students. I was also pleased to reconnect with a long time friend who is a professor at the University of Guanajuao, Juan Manuel Olvera. The mock trial team he coached from the University of Guanajuato recently won the national mock trial competition!

Catherine also presented her work as author of the ABA curriculum report and also some insights in her role as chair of the Accreditation Committee of the ABA. Of course, because Mexico’s legal education is a five year program after high school, the context is quite different, but the faculty was very interested in trends in legal education in the United States. And, that trend is actually consistent with Mexico’s reform: focusing on improving the preparation of law students for the practice of law.

We also met Luis Fernando Perez Hurtado who is the Director of a non-profit Center for the Study of Law Teaching and Learning (Centro de Estudios sobre la Ensenanza y el Aprendizaje del Derecho). His non –governmental organization’s mission is to improve legal education and he was very pleased to learn about the Best Practices for Legal Education. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is translated into Spanish. It is really exciting to think that the Best Practices “movement” might have a role in transforming legal education in Mexico. It will be intriguing to see how the adversary system develops in Mexico and how law schools change to prepare students for the change.

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One Response

  1. This is a tremendously exciting post. As someone who teaches in the area of criminal law, it also makes me think how important it is for us to expose our students to the understanding that our adversarial system is NOT the only way to proceed. To frame a critical perspective for them so that they don’t interpret international criminal cases through an American criminal justice lens. Thaks Antoinette!

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