Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Future of Law School

4/13/2016--The ABA has been asking law schools to engage in what they call outcomes assessment. The idea is to operationalize what law schools think they are teaching and then to measure educational success.

Except this is a juvenile task--at least the way it has been presented so far. The bar exam is already a test of whether students learn the substantive law and can communicate analysis in written form. The exam is not everything, but it will do. And students can tell whether they are getting their money's worth on their own.

But, after hearing about this from some experts, I wondered whether the question of outcome might be more deeply posed. Here is what I came up with for Duquesne Law School.
I don’t know whether what the ABA is going to be asking of us is trivial or unnecessary or both, but it has provoked a question in me that perhaps justifies last Friday’s exercise: what is our goal in educating students at Duquesne Law School? It has always been true that Duquesne educates competent, responsible attorneys whose record of public service is unequaled, certainly unequaled by any law school remotely similar to Duquesne in size and resources.

Now, in a genuinely dark time in American public life, perhaps this tradition should be noted and emphasized in a more determinate way as an intentional institutional outcome, thus giving substance to the ABA’s exercise.

To suggest this as part of the long-range response to the ABA, I propose the following remarks.
Outcome: Students will graduate from Duquesne Law School with values, knowledge and skills to help solve the crisis in American public life.

That there is a crisis in American public life is hard to dispute. This crisis is characterized by hyper partisanship, political gridlock and a toxic and trivialized public square. The constitutional tradition has always placed the legal profession at the center of American public life, with a self-recognized responsibility for the health of self-government. In a sense, the client of the American Law School is government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This form of service is consistent with Duquesne Law School’s own mission and the school’s professional obligations. To serve this client, Duquese Law School must itself be a community of faculty and staff that is open and intelligent. Only in that way will our graduates become open and intelligent.
Values: Students will exhibit civility, commitment to the rule of law, a greater commitment to the welfare of the people, responsibility for self-directed, open inquiry, respect for rational analysis and dedication to a life of service to the public good at the different levels of client, legal system, nation and humanity.

I chose civility rather than tolerance because, while civility of discourse is necessary if each member of the community is to be free to engage in open inquiry, there should not be tolerance of bad ideas. Rather, the Law School’s aim should be to foster sound judgment. The rule of law is an important professional commitment, but the Law School motto is a reminder that even the rule of law must not become an ideology on which lives are sacrificed. Open inquiry is hard to maintain in a world brimming with forms of political correctness on all sides and the Law School has not always lived up to this value. Nevertheless, it must remain a realistic goal to be fostered by faculty recruitment as well as by faculty conduct. At this professional level, student self-direction is required, which is to be encouraged by faculty as model as well as instructor.
Knowledge: Students will gain familiarity with the vocabulary, substance, processes and methods of American law, the principles of institution building, mediation and conflict resolution and, most important, the science of human flourishing, including the spiritual life of humanity and the role of humanity in the natural world.

All law students must graduate from law school with a working knowledge of the American legal system in all of its phases. Duquesne Law School graduates must also become expert in sustainable institution-building and conflict resolution that promotes justice. Nevertheless, very little knowledge is generated in law school. Most of the knowledge that is needed for legal education will come from the natural and social sciences. But this knowledge must include respect for spiritual life and the natural world.
Skills: Students will be competent in both the adversarial system and forms of mediation and will develop the capacity to judge when and to what extent each is needed to promote the public good in all of its levels. Students will be able to craft transactional devices needed to operationalize legal rights and duties. Students will have simulated or actual experience in navigating the legal system, structures of government and private economic and social organizations.

Not every student will gain equal levels of skill in all of these areas. But all of these skills are necessary for the graduating student and the curriculum must foster the acquiring of these skills to the extent possible.

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