To the Editor:
I read with interest "There's More to the Law Than 'Practice-Ready'" (The Chronicle, October 23).
The key passage is near the end: "The choice cannot be between skills training and a broader education; it must be both." Nothing surprising in that—Jerome Frank actually suggested as much in 1933. For much of the past 30 years, seasoned experiential legal educators have been saying that legal education needs balance. They have struggled to be heard.
Now, when some experiential education has crept into the standard law-school curriculum, more-traditional faculty members call for balance, as just a bit of their turf feels as though it has been invaded. My first published piece, in 1988, encouraged all faculty members to collaborate to design and teach a balanced curriculum, and to abandon the "us versus them" approach that has been common among traditional and experience-based learning faculty members alike. Legal education is approaching better balance in its curriculum, to the good of legal education, students, and the profession.
The authors of this piece argue against a curriculum that is devoid of theory. But no serious person proposes a curriculum devoid of theory, so the authors of this piece are creating a straw man that is easily blown away. They set up a spectrum with theory at one end and "practice-ready" education at the other. Their perspective betrays a lack of understanding about serious experiential education. Well-designed experiential education is not devoid of theory. It is rich in the theory of both law and its practice.
At Washington and Lee University School of Law, we now require students to undertake a full credit load of experiential education in their third year. (A full-time load is 12 credits per semester. Students may take traditional courses beyond the 12 required experiential credits.) Our approach has received considerable attention among academics and legal media. In our curriculum, our students continue to learn law and theory; they simply learn as lawyers learn rather than as students learn. They are faced with clients' problems through real practice and through realistic simulations in courses such as "The Litigation Department Lawyer," "The Lawyer for Failed Businesses," "Corporate Counsel Practicum," and "Poverty Law Litigation." They learn the relevant law and theory as lawyers do, with problem-solving and client service as motivation, rather than as students do, with a final exam on studied material as their motivation.
Our first and second years, meanwhile, are largely unchanged from the traditional model that includes required courses in contracts, torts, property, civil procedure, and constitutional law. (We are somewhat out of the usual mold because of the inclusion of international law, administrative law, and professional responsibility as first-year subjects, and a strong writing course that uses our regular faculty as its teachers.) We have the balance that has long been needed.
James E. Moliterno
Professor of Law
Washington and Lee University