Monday, October 6, 2008

What are they trying to teach me??

I wasn't planning to post tonight, however, as I walked out my front door (to take out the trash), I had a clear sky overhead, an amazing thunder and lightning storm building to the Northwest, when very suddenly a meteor streaked overhead and broke up right before my eyes.

I took all of this as a sign that I should post something. Hey, it's my sign, if that's what I want it to mean, that's what it's going to mean.

So, let's take a look at the educational process with special emphasis on law school. Throughout most of a student's schooling, they have some inkling of what it is that they will be expected to know. If you are studying the American Civil War, you can be fairly certain that you will need to memorize names and dates from American History from the early to mid-1860s. If the course is called "Algebra" it will probably involve algebraic equations.

Is it the same when you attend law school?? Take, for example, a typical law school course, Contracts. Would you assume that the idea would be to teach the student all about current laws regarding contracts? If you did, you'd be wrong. And that can be a big problem for an incoming law student, they expect one thing when they are really getting another.

The law is constantly changing, everywhere, and all the time. In the United States, a particular law could be a bit different in every one of the (currently) 50 states. And, why is it that the professors have the students readings laws from 17th century England?? Especially when it's a case that states laws or ideas that have long since fallen out of use? But, if the point of the law school courses is not to teach the student "the law" then what exactly is the point?

The point, simply stated, is to teach the student the skill of "legal analysis." They seldom come right out and tell you that legal analysis is what they are trying to teach you, but that's the truth of it. No matter what they call the course, the skill being taught is the same ... only the elements you need to use in your analysis change.

Why read ancient case law? First, because the professors want you to see something of how courts (old and modern) applied legal analysis. Sometimes the court does a horrible job. Sometimes the court doesn't even bother to do any analysis at all, which is what brings me to the second reason. Second, because the professors want you to understand the legal process; the how and sometimes the why of how the common law evolves. Third, they want you to learn the elements of each type of matter.

The elements themselves are not that difficult to learn, memorize, and retain. However, just being able to rattle off a list of bullet points is not going to make you a stellar student or a great attorney. It is learning how to do the analysis that will make all the difference. I will be writing on this topic in some detail in later posts, so please keep tuned.

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