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Legal education and the world beyond law school

In an interesting op-ed in the New York Times of 14 April 2014 (‘Don’t Skimp on Legal Training’), Professors Erwin Chemerinsky and Carrie Menkel-Meadow touch upon several interesting questions regarding the future of legal education. According to the authors, ‘Legal education must continue to educate those who seek to serve as legal “problem solvers,” not only in the board room or courtroom, but in all areas of civil society — our legislatures, administrative agencies, schools, workplaces and beyond. (…) Law schools need to teach a greater diversity of subjects to improve legal judgment and decision-making. In this respect, law schools should emulate business, architecture and planning schools. These have adapted to new economic realities by emphasizing the teaching of leadership, corporate governance, new finance and negotiation skills. Law school faculties, in their teaching and their scholarship, must deal with the emerging problems of the 21st century. Law schools need to develop new courses to provide students with the expertise to deal with the crucial problems of our time in fields like banking law, national security, conflict resolution, food safety, Internet law and migration policy. There should be “problem-based” seminars in fields such as public health, homelessness, environmental habitat regulation and world peace.’

The authors criticise the proposal for a reduction of the duration of undergraduate law degrees in the United States. I could not agree more. The reduction of the duration of law programs forces law schools to focus on traditional subjects, skipping new fields and emerging legal issues that can prove crucial in the near future. The Bologna process is a good (or should I say bad?) example of this. The first years of law school are merely an introduction to ‘legal language’. The work of lawyers is a never-ending process that requires constant updating, curiosity, and openness. By downsizing law programs, law schools fail to address the new needs of the global market in a convenient manner. Law programs need to be tailored to suit the ever-changing needs of society, otherwise they will be reduced to a theoretical and dogmatic repetition of old ideas and concepts which find to translation in the real world.


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