Was anyone's driver ed experience like this...?
The instructor walks into the classroom and greets everyone. He informs the class about what a great decision they made in choosing his school and that he looks forward to spending the year with them.
Somebody in the back groans and wonders aloud why they have to spend such an excessive amount of time in class to learn how to drive. The instructor appears sympathetic and apologetically notes that this is the minimum amount of instruction the National Association of Driving Schools permits. He then smiles slightly to himself, and a student in the front row swears she hears him mutter, "Plus, I get more money this way..."
Despite his alleged misgivings about the duration of the course, he does make sure to emphasize the value of the classroom instruction. Again, the class murmurs amongst themselves and an incredulous pupil or two inquires as to how much time will actually be dedicated to operating a motor vehicle.
The instructor dismisses the question by noting that all students will spend a brief time in a simulator that replicates the driving experience. After seeing the shocked looks on the faces of his students, he adds that a few will be allowed to operate an actual automobile under the supervision of an instructor, but these select students will have to decide if they want to drive in the city, in the suburbs, or on the highway.
Now that he has explained the school's approach to driver's ed, he instructs the students to open their text books. Once again, however, he is interrupted. The students want to know why their books are filled with narratives of other people's driving experiences rather than any sort of instructions as to how to operate a motor vehicle or information about the rules of the road.
Irritated, the teacher says that simply memorizing rote instructions and the transit laws won't teach them anything about being effective drivers. The students refuse to relent. They inform the instructor that previous graduates did just fine on the exams by purchasing third party materials that did nothing more than provide step by step instructions and straightforward explanations of the rules for driving.
Exasperated, the instructor grudgingly concedes that some of their protests are valid, but he insists that he must conduct his course in this manner in order to properly prepare the students for driver's license exam. To buttress his justification, he begins to read aloud a sample problem from the state licensing exam:
"Bobby gets into his car and heads towards work. He begins to back out of his driveway as another car comes traveling along down his street in a densely populated area at 35 MPH. After leaving his driveway, he approaches a stop sign (lacking any supplementary information) and prepares to make a left turn onto a busy street. After successfully making the turn, he receives a cell phone call from his friend, Jack.
After traveling on the main street for 1/2 a mile, Bobby then seeks to merge onto the highway. He enters the on ramp and sees a yield sign. After merging onto the highway, Bobby sees flashing emergency lights behind him. Once the situation has resolved, Bobby continues until traffic slows. He notices that all other vehicles are merging to the right, and a police officer is present, directing traffic away from the left two lanes.
Discuss all traffic related issues Bobby faces on his way to work."
After he concludes with the example, one wise acre points out that they will still have to take a supplementary course in order to properly prepare for the driver's license exam. The instructor surprisingly acknowledges this with a sardonic smile. "Yes," he says, "I look forward to teaching that course as well."
There's a reason why this doesn't remind you at all of your driver's ed course: Because this is an absurd way to teach anybody how to do anything! If driver's ed operated like this, we'd all have about a 50% chance of dying on the roads on the way to work in the morning.
Now, I have enough respect for my readers to believe that you all recognized where I was going with this story faster than the average political science student is able to recognize that Animal Farm is an allegory of the history of the Soviet Empire - which, given the current economy, doesn't actually seem so bad right now.*
I also recognize that like with any spoof, the subject matter that is being lampooned is a bit more complex than its detractors give it credit.
Nonetheless, I don't think I'm too far off the mark. Driving schools teach people how to drive. Typing schools teach people how to type. Clown colleges even teach people how to be clowns. Why on earth don't law school actually teach people to be lawyers?
Sure, if the so-called T-14 schools want to bill themselves as academic programs that can't deign themselves to do anything that might suggest that they bear any resemblance to trade schools, so be it. Their students can go off to fancy law firms that want to hire exceedingly bright people to mold into their images. This may be the route tomorrow's elite law firm partners, federal judges, and legal academics should take in order to enter into the upper echelons of society of which us plebeians who couldn't crack a 170 LSAT score can only dream.
For the rest of us TTT graduates, this sort of pretentious hogwash has little relevance to most of the fields where we're likely to end up. People looking to file for bankruptcy, seeking a protection from abuse order, or who need somebody to defend them on their 4th DUI want somebody who knows how to file the right paperwork with the court and what to say and do during a hearing. They don't care if their lawyers can properly IRAC a hypothetical scenario in which somebody's house is simultaneously consumed by two different fires or if they can establish the policy justifications for a utilitarian rather than a retributive approach to crime.
If the employers and clients who are likely to hire us want attorneys who know the law, know the proper procedures, and know the rules of courts, why are these treated as tangential aspects of American legal education? As I alluded to in my above parody, only a small portion of law school is even dedicated to learning how to practice in a simulated environment (trial advocacy classes, etc.). Hands on training (such as clinics and externships) are usually only available to a select number of students, and even if you learn the basics of practicing in immigration court or representing the state in criminal/municipal court, you're only getting experience limited to that one practice area.
Some have said that even for attorneys who work on smaller issues, having a theoretically rigorous education is still necessary. I don't buy it. I worked for a personal injury law firm doing most of the tasks (save appearing in court) that the practicing attorney would have done. When I filled out complaints to submit to the court, there was plenty of research to do regarding the medical issues involved and the facts surrounding the case, but there was precious little legal reasoning involved.
In fact, let me give you the one line of law I included in each of the complaints: "Defendant X had a legal duty to do Y. X breached his duty of care because he didn't do Y. Ergo, X was negligent and the actual and proximate causes of Z's injuries."
You know what that's called on a law school torts exam? A "C-"...if you're lucky. At my office, it was standard cut 'n paste boilerplate.
I'm not joking. I just took a look at an old document I have on my computer to verify this.
Also, while I tend to consider most PI firms to be chop shops, this one was actually a pretty legitimate operation. It was run out of a nice downtown office. The attorney had a great reputation among the local bar, and he even treated me like a human being. We're not talking about some bottom feeder law office run just outside of the projects here.
I found the same dearth of legal reasoning when I interned at a big city prosecutor's office. Having confidence in court and knowing the law was far more important than being able to craft some fancy legal argument for entry level ADA's. Heck, the office just gave all of them crib notes on how to handle most disputes of law anyway. (Not like you couldn't just look these things up using rudimentary high school research skills.)
The one area of practice where it seems like legal acumen and well crafted arguments would be most helpful is appellate advocacy. I do not dispute that well reasoned argumentation is necessary in this field. I just don't see why this requires three years of theoretical-based education.
For one thing, the cynic in me believes that most judges are going to see legal precedent, etc. the way they want to see it regardless of the arguments presented to the court. (If constitutional law isn't just a euphemism for political theory, then I'm really a Supreme Court clerk with too much time on my hands.)
Moreover, appellate advocacy isn't that difficult. You look up the relevant cases, pull out the pertinent arguments, and then analogize them or distinguish them from the present fact pattern. The people who usually win those moot court and advocacy competitions are gifted writers and natural showmen. I don't know if you can teach this in the classroom, but three years of law school certainly isn't the road to improving such skills.
Now, I know I'm no law professor. Maybe I'm just missing that part of the brain that would allow me to recognize what a service learning "legal reasoning" is to America's budding attorneys. Maybe it's a secret they let you in on at Harvard and Yale. Perhaps if I had a financial stake in being able to hold onto a four hour a week job that pays six figures, I'd think differently.
Sadly, I am but a commoner, who never was permitted entry into the ivy covered campuses of America's truly elite schools. Please, therefore, bear with me as I humbly offer my own reasoning as to why I respectfully disagree with any defense of the current law school curriculum:
If you can safely operate a two ton weapon that can reach speeds of over 100 MPH after the state gives you your driver's license, it's inexcusable that you can't competently represent a client after the bar hands you your license to practice law.
* NB: Esq. Never is not a commie.