If there's an advocacy topic you want to see discussed, or about which you wish to contribute, contact one of the blog administrators - see the list on the right side of this page. Lonely thinking changes nothing, sharing your thoughts may start a trend.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Role of Advocacy and Advocacy Professors in the Law School Curriculum

This week I am in Reno, Nevada, teaching evidence at the National Judicial College. I always enjoy the opportunity to interact with state court trial judges to discuss evidentiary issues that are of concern to them.

One of my fellow faculty members, Scott Donaldson, is a judge in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, where he teaches trial advocacy. On our walk back from the College to our hotel this afternoon, we discussed the importance of trial advocacy in the law school curriculum. Scott, like many others I've met over the years, thinks trial advocacy ought to be a required course at law school, even in this day and age of fewer trials. He compared trial advocacy to learning how to suture a wound in medical school: a basic skill that a graduate of a professional school ought to have.

The issue of what role advocacy should play in the law school curriculum, and who should teach it, is an important one, especially as the ABA is considering outcome-based evaluation models for law schools. I know that law schools employ a variety of approaches--and instructors--to teach advocacy. In some schools, full-time advocacy teachers are tenure-line faculty members, treated as the equals of their doctrinal peers; in other schools, full-time advocacy teachers are non-tenure track and may have a lesser status in their law school hierarchy. Nearly everyone makes heavy use of adjuncts for trial courses.

The South Carolina Law Review is about to publish an article about law school faculties, scholarship, and the role of skills education in the legal academy. An abstract of the article has been circulating through our faculty. Some find the tone objectionable, others find the content objectionable, and a few actually agree with the article.

I'm including a copy of the abstract and a link to the SSRN page of the current version of the article. I know from conversations at advocacy teaching seminars that these issues are near and dear to the advocacy teaching community. I'd be interested to get your feedback on this article. Are the author's points valid? Does he make his case? What is the ideal way to teach advocacy, and what status should the faculty have?

My two cents: I think that those of us in the legal academy who teach advocacy to law students are in a unique position to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Working closely with members of the bench and bar, we appreciate what our colleagues bring to the table. I think we can make the case that advocacy teaching is a viable academic discipline, as well as valuable skills training.

My intent here is not to attack traditional legal scholarship, or those who write it. I enjoy scholarship; it's one of the reasons I sought a position as a law school professor. But I do think the author of this piece makes some valid points that are worthy of consideration.

Preaching What They Don't Practice: Why Law Faculties' Preoccupation with Impractical Scholarship and Devaluation of Practical Competencies Obstruct Reform in the Legal Academy
South Carolina Law Review, Forthcoming 2010.

In response to decades of complaints that American law schools have failed to prepare students to practice law, several prominent and respected authorities on legal education, including the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, recently have proposed significant curricular and pedagogical changes in order to bring American legal education into the twenty-first century.

It will not be possible to implement such proposed curricular and pedagogical reforms if law schools continue their trend of primarily hiring and promoting tenure-track faculty members whose primary mission is to produce theoretical, increasingly interdisciplinary scholarship for law reviews rather than prepare students to practice law.

Such impractical scholars, because they have little or no experience in the legal profession and further because they have been hired primarily to write law review articles rather than primarily to teach, lack the skill set necessary to teach students how to become competent, ethical practitioners. The recent economic recession, which did not spare the legal profession, has made the complaints about American law schools’ failure to prepare law students to enter the legal profession even more compelling; law firms no longer can afford to hire entry-level attorneys who lack the basic skills required to practice law effectively. This essay proposes significant changes in both faculty composition and law reviews aimed at enabling law schools to achieve the worthy goals of reformists such as the Carnegie Foundation.


No comments:

Post a Comment