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November 26, 2004

Comments

Beau Baez

I am not sure that smaller classes are the answer to better discussions or increased learning. It takes many 1L students a full year to understand that they are in a graduate program and that they can no longer coast, as they once did in their undergraduate programs.

I teach Torts in two sections of 30 students each, though occasionally I have had to teach all 60 at one time. With 30 students more of them get to participate, thus smaller is better in that sense. However, in the larger classes the discussion tends to be better because there are more students, thus all of the students hear better answers.

Law schools could go to a model that has 20 to 30 students per class, but keep in mind the financial implications. Under current accreditation rules professors are only allowed to teach 6 credits per semester, and in the elite schools professors only teach 9 credits for the entire year (6 in one semester and 3 in the other) in order to allow them more time for scholarship. Let’ see. One professor teaching 100 students or 5 professors teaching 20 students? Tuition would jump to $40 or $50 thousand a year—this amount is unreasonable and would lead to increased inaccessibility of legal services by the poor. The current approach is sound: large classes in the first year and smaller classes in the second and third year. Ideally, I might want private one-on-one sessions with Civil Procedure guru Arthur Miller, but frankly I can’t afford to hire him at his rate.

One thing which can be done, and which I have implemented, is the creation of small groups. All of my students belong to a small group with 3 to 5 students apiece. They have short weekly assignments and a larger mid-term project. This allows them to teach each other and is financially possible.

Jeff

Georgetown is currently offering some sort of alternative cirriculum in which a great deal of time is spent on legal theory, learning about "crits" and realists and formalist and whatnot. Obviously I don't go to Georgetown, or I could give you some real information about it.

I think it's a little odd, though, that you're proposing to both delay the substantive courss and shorten the program. When will any learning get done?

Jamie

No more theoretical approaches to law school! My school is centered around economic efficiency, the Coase Theorem, and pareto-optimal outcomes. Somewhere along the line, I've missed out on why I went to law school in the first place. I'm not saying that we should resort to pure black-letter law, but some of us would prefer to learn the law rather than pursue a PhD in economic theory.

JR

"Make clinics, internships, and externships mandatory, and/or make a J.D. a two-year degree."

I think at least two years is necessary, even though I am a supporter of law school being three years. One year does not provide enough time for a law student to learn enough of the basic substantive law. For example, without a second year, I would not have taken constitutional law or evidence. Any attempts to squeeze more into the first year would result in classes where the content is too watered down.

Also, if law school were changed to two years or less, it would seem silly (more than it already is) to continue to call a law degree a "Juris Doctor" degree. If it ever happens, I hope law schools call the degree a master's degree.

-Dave!

And your second point is addressed at my school; all my classes have student TA's, and although the quality certainly varies, most are quite helpful. My torts TAs are *excellent*. They hold regular office hours, review sessions, and have helped with practice exams as well.

A. Rickey

Interestingly, your third point seems to be well-addressed by Columbia: in our second semester we have a "Perspectives on Legal Thought" course, which for the most part covers either basic ideas in legal thinking (vagueness, indeterminacy, etc.) and the major schools of legal thinking. It's quite controversial, but easily one of the most useful courses I've taken so far. We also have a course called "Foundations of the Regulatory State," which for all intents and purposes is Law & Econ and its discontents.

Both are mandatory, which is why we do Property in the second year.

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