January 21, 2007
Newsflash! The education of lawyers does not prepare them for what awaits them in their professional lives. No kidding.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching actually seems to believe that lawyers can be trained for what lies ahead. That is, perhaps, the conceit of a foundation that believes in the efficacy of teaching.More teachers?
The foundation wants better training on legal ethics. But there is nothing about the classroom that prepares lawyers for the human dimension of lawyering. Not can there be.
The third and fourth year of a medical school education focuses largely on clinical practice. Disease is made manifest in people. Doctors in training set aside theory for the grimy reality of practice. Law schools would do well to require clinical practice.
The emphasis in legal education on such things as law reviews is a telling sign of why lawyers aren't educated well. Law review articles are fun to read, and law school professors are necessary. But the law is not reason made manifest in the world. The ife of the law, Holmes once reminded, is experience. And in the case of the life of a practicing lawyer, that experience often comes in the form of need that is impervious to reason.
Want better trained lawyers? Spend the third year of legal education outside the classroom. Require all lawyers to intern for a month or so in the local emergency room so that they can see the ordinary chaos that many folks call day-to-day living. Then send the lawyers for a month or so to a drug or alcohol rehabilitation clinic, where they can rub elbows with life-destroying need. Then send the lawyers to a psychiatric facility or two. Top off the year with work in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
In each of these settings, assign the would-be lawyers the task of interviewing people. Let the lawyers identify one area of the interviewee's life in which legal advice is needed. Then let the would-be lawyers provide counsel.
That is the reality of the law the small firm practitioner.
Nothing prepares lawyers for the need they face in their clients. And no classroom experience undertaken in the cool light of reason can prepare a lawyer for the emotional travail of a client in fear, terror or anger.
So let's change lawyering education, but not by creating another breed of teachers who can pontificate about what they haven't done, and perhaps cannot do. Remember: Practice conceived isn't theory relieved.