"The Death of Socrates" by Jacques-Louis
David (1787).

The mind-bending experience of learning to think like a lawyer results, in law school, largely from having to answer professors’ tricky questions — a method we call Socratic after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (circa 470-399 B.C.).  Like the Athenian jurors who sentenced him to death for questioning their religious beliefs, more than a few law students recoil at the Socratic method’s invasive impertinence.  And some, like the WSJ today (here), suggest that the method wastes time that law students could better spend learning how to practice.

Blawgletter confesses to some sympathy for the anti-Socratic view and would like to mandate one semester-long class worth of practical experience (in a law office, legal clinic, government agency, or corporate law department, for example) and to allow another as an elective.  But Blawgletter doesn’t share the despair over the current course of study.  It has another notion for improving lawyering from day one without sacrificing the intellectual rigor of old Socrates.

The idea?  That law schools should encourage prospects to work for one to three years before attending.  The job doesn’t much matter as long as it involves paying bills, meeting expectations, and dealing with people.  Business schools already prefer real world experience.  Law students, Blawgletter believes, would also benefit from greater maturity and wider perspective when they start trying to comprehend torts, contracts, and the rule against perpetuities.

A downside:  Law firms may have to give new associates more client and courtroom time and fewer library and document-review hours.  The new lawyers’ tolerance for mind-numbing work presumably will fall and their hunger for doing things that seem to matter will grow. 

Blawgletter certainly hopes so.

Barry Barnett

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