Curriculum and Legal Education Reform

In a recent speech, Second Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes argued that law schools should get “back to basics” with more bread-and-butter courses and fewer “law and” courses, in addition to other changes:

To get back on track, law schools should shift their curricula back to core courses and away from the interdisciplinary classes that have grown in popularity, he said . . .

Cabranes lamented the move by law schools toward specialized, often interdisciplinary courses that can displace “black-letter” law courses — criminal and civil procedure, evidence and federal courts. He related a story about a friend’s child who enrolled in a law school clinic focusing on housing court — but who had never taken a property law course.

Core law courses should come before clinics and interdisciplinary work, even if the latter are more popular with students and faculty, he said.

I’d love to see an empirical study on how much, if at all, the differences in what courses students take impact their skill sets and influence careers as lawyers. These days, most courses after the first year are elective, and students can take a wide range of classes. Students can decide to take all basic doctrinal classes or all “law and” classes. They can take a lot of clinic credits (at most schools, at least) or none. Or they can take a mix of classes here and there, blending different kinds of classes. The diverse choices of different students would seem to allow examination of whether such choices make any difference — or at least if the students who opted for one set of courses ended up with different careers than ones who opted for a different set. I’d be very interested to know if there’s any difference; my first guess is that there is little or none.

Hat tip: Brian Leiter