It would also include experiences like this one:
In [the] criminal prosecution clinic [taught at our school], students learn a variety of skills (from mundane ones like how to respond to a discovery request to more complicated ones like how to interview an alleged victim and how to interact with the police).Legal education (note I do not say "law school") ought, as DJM argues, combine theory and practice in serious and sophisticated ways. Unfortunately, far too often it teaches neither theory nor practice. Instead it wastes students' time and money in the fashion described by this commenter, who took an excellent clinical class as a 2L:
But they also read pieces on the theory of punishment and discuss those views--in the context of making their own prosecutorial decision. To me, this is the best of professional education: combining theory, doctrine, and a variety of practical skills. Last year, I saw a Facebook post from a student in that clinic saying 'best two hours in law school ever--discussing the theory of retribution in the prosecution clinic.' Excusing for a moment the fact that she was posting during class, I thought that was a wonderful tribute to the way legal education can and should be.
Now as a 3L, I'm taking your typical slate of classes (Corporations, Professional Responsibility, etc), which I don't attend. I take about 2-3 days before the exam to get an outline and study on that. I am killing time until I graduate. And that's kind of sad.It's more than sad -- it's a scandal that so many law school classes are, without exaggeration, completely useless in both intellectual and practical terms. Many law school classes are so badly designed and taught that students get literally nothing out of attending them. A professor who does little more than regurgitate gobbets of legal doctrine (now often with the aid of helpful Power Point slides), interlarded with the occasional war story from his brief sojourn in legal practice, and then evaluates students on the basis of a single end of the semester issue-spotting exam, is wasting everybody's time. Students soon learn that they are learning nothing from class they can't get from the assigned reading.
Indeed, issue-spotting exams are such an inherently ridiculous way of testing anything that many students, by the time they are third years, neither attend class nor do any of the assigned reading, since they find that a few days of studying an outline produces evaluative results that aren't distinguishable from those they got when they attended class religiously and read every case three times. (This is especially likely to be true when professors recycle exams that are available on the internet).
Again, this is nowise an exaggeration -- it's a quite literal description of many a law student's experience. Here's an email I received from a recent graduate of a top tier school:
I did well as a 1L, but I also discovered that there wasn't any meaningful relation between how hard I worked and how well I did in a class. I worked extremely hard in my first semester. By my second semester I had pretty much figured out that law school was a joke, and I slacked off quite a bit, but I read and outlined more strategically, instead of trying to learn anything. And I got better grades: I had a B+ average my first semester and nearly a straight A average in my second.
My second year I spent most of my time in class fooling around on the internet (when I bothered to go at all). My evidence professor was a blowhard who rarely even bothered to talk about the cases, but spent most of his time telling war stories from the 18 months he had spent as a defense lawyer. I paid no attention in class -- attendance was mandatory -- and did literally none of the reading. I spent three days memorizing the federal rules for a closed book mostly multiple choice exam, and got an A. For my patent law I again didn't do any of the reading and barely went to class. The professor had every class reduced to bullet point powerpoint slides, which you could get off the net. I printed those off and memorized them for a closed book issue spotter, and got an A-.
Think about what it says about a method of "education" in which people who do none of the assigned work for a class and either don't show up at all or are completely checked out while physically present can excel at what they're asked to do for evaluative purposes. And any law professor who thinks stories like this are rare or exceptional ought to try to have a candid conversation with a few ex-students sometime.
The fact is that classes like this are far more common than those resembling either Fish's theoretically sophisticated explorations or the clinic praised by DJM. And that dire truth has serious implications for the structure of legal education. It would be wonderful if law schools were full of Stanley Fishes and intellectually challenging as well as practically-oriented clinics. They're not. For every class like those there are X number of pointless exercises in brain-dead doctrinal wheel spinning, from which students learn nothing beyond a very deep cynicism about the extent to which they are wasting their time and money. You can decide for yourself what X is or was at your school, or in legal academia in general.
But if it's anywhere as large as we have every reason to suspect it is, then we really ought to ask why "law school" in its present form ought to continue to exist at all.