Richard Pierce on Law School Curricular Reform:
The New York Times has a story today on curricular reform in law schools. My colleague Richard Pierce, who has taught for 30 years at several different schools (Kansas, Tulane, SMU, Columbia, and GW) and briefly was the Dean of one (Pittsburgh), e-mailed around a skeptical response. I thought it was worth passing on, so I have reprinted it with his permission (with a few minor edits and paragraph breaks added by me):
The Times story is a laugher for those of us who have been around for a while. It reports on "curricular innovations" that are being adopted by many schools. Number one is a required first year course in legislative and administrative law. Jerry Mashaw and I were just yuching it up about this innovation. Jerry, Dick Merrill, and I were victims of this new idea when UVA adopted it in 1969. UVA abandoned it after 5 years. Students hated it, and profs complained that students learned much less ad law when they were required to take the course and when they lacked basic building blocks like civ pro and con law.
I was victimized a second time by a variation on this theme when Columbia hired me in 1989 to teach its new required first year course in foundations of the regulatory state. That was one of 3 new required first year courses Columbia introduced that year. None of the 3 survive today. A student poll ranked them 3 of the 4 courses students disliked the most. (Thank God for Trusts & Estates).
The second most popular innovation mentioned by the Times is a mandatory externship. [GW Law has] had a successsful externship program for many years, probably because of the quality of the people who have run it combined with a legal community that provides unrivaled opportunities for good externships. The long history of externships around the country is rich and not particularly encouraging, however.
When I was at Tulane, we had a fascinating debate about a proposed externship program. The ABA had just concluded an investigation of externships that found that most students were not supervised and were assigned tasks like copying documents or acting as messengers. Moreover, two student externs at a Florida law school had just been indicted for playing minor roles (basically bagmen) in extensive operations run by high-ranking state officials who were engaged in narcotics distribution.
Our debate at Tulane focused on nice questions like: how could we explain a decision to refuse to provide externs to various important state agencies that we had reason to believe would use the externs to participate in criminal conduct? We concluded that we could not adequately explain such decisions, and we rejected the proposal to create an extern program.