by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Charles Rounds writes for the Martin Center about a problem plaguing law school instruction.
Back in 2010, I wrote a piece for the Martin Center entitled Bad Sociology, Not Law bemoaning the marginalization of common law doctrine in the American law school curriculum. My point then was that, increasingly, law students were just learning about legal doctrine in their classes rather than being called upon to master the prevailing legal doctrine itself in all its complexities.
Put differently, law teachers are devoting more classroom time to policy (what should be) and less to the prevailing law’s basic anatomy (what is). At Harvard Law School, for example, Agency, Trusts, Evidence, Business Associations, and Family Law are no longer required classes and have not been for some time.
Competently addressing the nuts-and-bolts needs of the middle class when it comes to the rendering of legal services has not been a serious pedagogical goal for quite some time now in most of the prestige law schools.
On the other hand, students in the first year at Harvard are required to participate in “ungraded reading groups” that “allow students to explore an intellectual interest outside the scope of the foundational first-year curriculum.” The course catalog informs us that “topics” are as “diverse” as “legal responses to terrorism, regulation of climate change, Biblical law, detective fiction, conservative jurisprudence, artificial intelligence, and bioethics.”
Over the last nine years, as one can see, the problem I lamented has gotten worse.