13 December 2011

Cry Me A Bucket Finis -- Fish Vs. Segal

Over the past couple of weeks I've posted here and here about David Segal's NYT piece criticizing legal education. The thrust of my comments were not so much to challenge the goals Segal prescribed for legal education but his means. In other words, who should pay for skills training? Law students or law firms?

In yesterday's NYT Stanley Fish went deeper and argued here that Segal's implicit vocational-school model of legal education was misguided. Instead, by describing his own class at Yale law school, Fish tried to demonstrate that a lawyer's bag of tricks is of little value (and, I would add, actually quite dangerous) unless he or she understands the goals or purposes of the law in a particular society. Here's how Fish puts it:
That understanding is what law schools offer (among other things). Law schools ask and answer the question, “What’s the game here?”; the ins and outs of the game you learn later, as in any profession. The complaint reported by David Segal in his Times article is that law firms must teach their new hires tricks of the trade they never learned in their contracts, torts and (God forbid) jurisprudence classes. But learning the tricks would not amount to much and might well be impossible for someone who did not know — in a deep sense of know — what the trade is and why it is important to practice it.
I'm very pleased that my law school forces students to address the "What's the game here?" question. We certainly suggest some answers or sets of answers that are plausibly true in the Western Christian tradition, although it's ultimately up to the student which understanding of the "game" will guide her practice of law.

In short, there's no conflict among a firm analytical grounding in the law, the acquisition of certain legal skills, and the understanding of what should be the goal of the law in the American civil polity. Anyone considering the study of law should investigate thoroughly whether his prospective law school achieves all three ends.

Check Mike Schutt's Redeeming Law blog here for a short video that will provide a framework for answering these questions before starting one's legal education.

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