Legal Education Reform: Law School, Theory versus Black Letter Law

On legal education reform, from a friend who completed law school.

My friend went to a top ranked law school, and argued that law schools should offer concise teaching on black letter law, by offering students materials like the concise BarBri Conviser Mini Review, so that students can get a broad and focused view of how the law is currently implemented and actually works. So that they have more of a base to build upon in analyzing theoretical legal issues professors like to wax upon so much, so students can move on to higher level concepts and questions more quickly and confidently, with a more rigorous intellectual base/background to theorize upon–which professors often neglect to realize that their students may not have yet, or ever, in the process of their law school education.

“As many people may know, the legal education system in the US is broken and badly in need of reform. In law school you learn lots of theory, kind of. Due to the Socratic method of teaching, professors basically ask a few open ended questions, and students fumble for answers, and then class is over. Well, you do learn stuff, but my point is, there needs to be more focus on black letter law for students to learn the current legal system, a base of knowledge upon which they can then be better prepared to analyze and consider more theoretical finer higher level points of law. You can’t run before you learn to walk, and you can’t walk before you learn to crawl. Without a holistic view of how the laws actually work and are implemented, there’s not much intelligent theorizing that can go on–students are left to sort of float around meaningless. Plus, everyone knows that students aren’t prepared to actually practice law at all based on what they learn in school.

I probably learned 50% as much as I did in law school during the BarBri study period. The piece de resistance was the amazing BarBri Conviser Mini Review. This book is so efficiently and logically organized, that it would give just about anyone a great introduction to the workings of the law. It should be required reading for students before their first semester of law school. It should be required reading at least at some point during law school. Professors just hide the ball and let students wallow in chopped up and dismembered cases, lacking context, in aimless casebooks. Casebooks are for the most part pretty awful and most study guides are just okay. But the Conviser Mini Review is brilliant.

The thing is, students should be given a better education, a great overview, in all aspects of black letter law early on–so that they can gain context for the law and move on to more advanced and complex legal issues. Professors let students wander aimlessly, the professors ramble aimlessly, and many first year students have little context for the structure of the law–not an optimal state for learning and developing ideas and skills. I even had professors who discouraged the use of any study aids–which can give students a good idea of the scope and structure of the law, as opposed to just being a crutch. Law school is bizarre in this way. No overview and context is given for the law across many areas of the law in a tight, highly structured manner as in the Conviser Mini Review. Which is a shame–students’ learning behaviors and information processing habits have probably changed quite a deal since the early days of the Socratic method, law schools take note.

So, all future law students, buy a copy of the Conviser Mini Review on Amazon or eBay, and get ready for a better understanding of the law coming in, so that in three years you’ll be attaining levels of understanding and attacking interesting legal issues in an informed and well-developed manner. Law schools, take note once again. You are being very irresponsible in keeping such well-formatted basic information away from law students in favor of meandering casebooks and meandering Socratic method classroom interactions. No wonder so many law students are zoning out on the internet in class. They know they are smarter than what is required in class, they know the professors are lazily hiding the ball. Give students good holistic legal information and overviews instead of horrible casebooks and lazy lectures, a good basis for more advanced idea formation and study, and a new revived generation of legal scholars may emerge.”

I’m sure there are many good educational theory articles about students’ learning behaviors out there–has law school been studied in this respect?


2 Responses

  1. Just found this site with a google search on “law school ‘hide the ball'” while sitting in 1L Property class right now and I can assure you everything said above is true. Law school is not just broken. It is institutionalized rent-seeking in service of a professor class trying to dress up what should essentially be an at most 2 year trade school into something with more academic “weight.” The real purpose of American “legal education,” as far as I can tell, is to serve as a barrier to entry into the attorney guild.

    • Steve:
      I’ve practiced law 12 years. I agree with you 100 %. I was lucky I took an undergrad business law class that taught me 70% of the real black letter law prior to 1L. I’m going to recommend that my relative who is going to law school read the Conviser Mini Review, or maybe take the entire BARBRI, prior to 1L.

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