Last week the NYT’s David Segal attacked modern legal education in what many bloggers have criticized as an overwrought and inaccurate article. I joined the chorus. Referring to my article Practicing Theory, I noted that Segal had made the often-repeated mistake of blaming legal educators for teaching too much theory and not enough practice when nobody knows what the future of practice will be:
Practicing Theory suggests that law schools should teach law students how to be architects and designers rather than mechanics. The lawyers of the future will focus, more than today’s lawyers, on the building blocks of law. Computers and non-lawyers will handle the mechanical tasks. Training lawyers demands the sort of theoretical perspective that Segal disdains. * * * The real problem * * * is not that law professors are teaching theory rather than the way to the courthouse, but that their choices of which theories to teach pay insufficient attention to the skills and knowledge today’s and tomorrow’s market demands.
Today’s NYT has an editorial that tracks many of Segal’s criticisms. Leiter has already subjected the editorial to a thorough fisking. I agree with many of Leiter’s criticisms — and particularly regarding the editorial’s confused attempt to relate the problems of legal education.
But I note with interest that the editorial seems to pick up on some of the points I made in my blog post and article:
- The editorial notes the need to “teach to what legal practice now entails.”
- Just as I said future lawyers will be “architects and designers” the NYT says they will be “negotiators and deal-shapers, and problem-solvers.”
- Tracking my basic point, the editorial says “the choice is not between teaching legal theory or practice.”
- Both the editorial and my article criticized legal education’s Langdellian heritage. (Leiter correctly observes that the NYT’s criticism is misguided; the point in my article wasn’t so much that Langdell was wrong, but that his influence marked the divide between legal education and the market for lawyers).
So maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to think the Grey Lady is stooping to the blogs, even if not getting her hands too dirty with them.