Should law school be reduced to two years?

This weekend the NY Times is running an online debate entitled “The Debate over Law School.” The main focus is whether law school should be reduced from three years to two.  Geoffrey R. Stone says “The critical question is what law schools can do to educate future lawyers that legal practice cannot do.” In addition:

Does the three-year program of legal education work well? This depends entirely on what legal educators do with the three years. If legal educators are lazy, uninspired or indifferent to their responsibility to educate, three years is certainly too long. But if they are thoughtful, focused and creative, three years may not be long enough.

Rose Cuison Villazor says:

Ultimately, the question about reducing the cost of legal education should be less about its length but rather its quality. Law schools must put greater emphasis in developing and strengthening programs that would help law students become engaged and ethical lawyers. These include increasing the availability of skills-based courses, clinical and internship programs, enhanced academic support and mentoring services, providing more mentoring and offering more interdisciplinary courses. By enhancing the traditional model instead of radically changing it, many law students might just view their legal education as an important investment in time and money.

For more, go to the main debate page.

H/T to Therapeutic Jurisprudence page on Facebook.

(Batman’s) advice for new law students, part VI: “always mind your surroundings”

One common mistake of new law students is conclusory argumentation, as discussed in this post on avoiding “Monty Python” argumentation.  Another common mistake is incomplete analysis.  An essay answer might include analysis that scratches the surface but doesn’t explore deeper.  But it’s crucial to consider the strengths and weaknesses of any argument, and to explore valid counter-arguments.

Failure to consider and address valid counter-arguments may leave an essay answer on thin ice, as illustrated by Bruce Wayne in the movie Batman Begins. Below is a video showing Wayne (pre-Batman) being trained in combat by Henri Ducard, who later turns out to be the villain Ra’s al Ghul. Ducard/Ghul reminds Wayne to “always mind your surroundings.”  But Wayne, hoping for a quick and easy win, ignores the fragile ice below his feet, leading to an equally quick and humbling defeat.  At about 1:00 into the video the battle reaches its climax:

Wayne: Yield!
Ducard/Ghul: You haven’t beaten me.  You’ve sacrificed sure footing for a killing stroke.

Continue reading “(Batman’s) advice for new law students, part VI: “always mind your surroundings””

Advice for new law students, part V: avoid Monty Python “Yes it is!, No it isn’t!” argumentation

When engaging in legal analysis, avoid being conclusory.  As I tell my 1Ls, always follow the advice of Dorothy from the song Follow the Yellow-Brick Road (emphasis added):

If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was the Wizard of Oz is one because
Because, because, because, because, because
of the wonderful things he does.

Always give the “because.”  If you state a conclusion (that the Wizard of Oz is a “Wiz”), make sure you give the reasons — i.e., state the issue, rule of law, analysis, and counter-analysis — that support the conclusion.  Thus, always make sure you’ve given the “because, because, because.”  Why is he a wizard?  Because of the wonderful things he does.

Of course, Dorothy’s analysis is still lacking.  She says the Wizard of Oz is a Wiz because of the wonderful things he does.  What are those things?  Explain.  Why are those things wonderful?  Because . . . .  And so on. So Dorothy shows what should be done: always give the “becauses.”

An illustration of what not to do can be found in Monty Python’s classic sketch Argument Clinic.  When I was in law school, one of my professors would mock students who engaged in what he called “Monty Python” arguing.  In the sketch, Michael Palin buys a five-minute argument.  John Cleese, in turn, simply contradicts everything Palin says.  Exasperted, Palin argues with Cleese over what is a proper argument:

Palin:  An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.

Cleese:   No it isn’t.

Palin:  Yes it is! It’s isn’t just contradiction.

Cleese:   Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

Palin:  But it isn’t just saying “No it isn’t.”

Cleese:   Yes it is!

Palin:   No it isn’t!

Cleese:   Yes it is!

Palin:  Argument’s an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

Cleese:  No it isn’t.

Advice part I (life and stress) here.
Advice part II (studying and attitudes) here.
Advice part III (back up your data) here.
Advice part IV (essay exams) here.
Advice part V (conclusory argumentation) here.
Advice part VI (incomplete argumentation) here.

Advice for new law students, part IV: essay exams

Understandably, new law students stress over how to write essay exams.  In my Civil Procedure class, I run multiple review sessions including an essay exam writing workshop.  For the workshop, I hand out tips and techniques on doing Civ Pro essay exams in my class.  Although the materials below are geared towards Civil Procedure and my class in particular, some may have relevance to other first-year classes.  Keep in mind that other professors may have differing expectations, so the suggestions below may not be applicable to your class.

Substantive considerations:

Argue the facts presented. A common error on essay exams is failing to argue the facts provided.  Sometimes I see relevant facts omitted from the discussion.  Other times, students change facts or invent facts that aren’t in the exam.  Sometimes this is because students don’t want to discuss the issues presented. You can’t do that.  However, if you believe that additional facts are needed for your analysis, state what those facts are how they would affect your analysis.

Focus on the issues raised. Do not raise irrelevant issues.  Use your judgment as to the main issues that are likely to be worth more points.  Minor issues are likely to be worth fewer or no points.  You get no points for “negative issue-spotting.”

Do not be conclusory. Always be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, i.e., provide the “because, because, because.”  (Think of the lyrics to “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”)  If you state a conclusion without indicating (in that sentence or surrounding sentences) “why” or “because,” then you’re probably being conclusory.  Conclusory is bad.

Continue reading “Advice for new law students, part IV: essay exams”