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"The Devastating Obsoleteness of Legal Education"

Publication Date: 
October 30, 2007
Conglomerate: Business Law Economics Society
Gordon Smith

Professor Larence Friedman's book Contract Law in America: A Social and Economic Case Study is used in Gordon Smith's blog Conglomerate as an early example of commentary on the state of American legal education:

Earlier today, I discovered Lawrence Friedman's Contract Law in America: A Social and Economic Case Study, written while Friedman was at Wisconsin. It is a study of over 500 contract cases decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. This is a portion of the Preface:

Probably nothing has so crippled historical study of American law as the traumatic effect of some fifty jurisdictions. Nothing, that is, unless it is the devastating obsoleteness of legal education, which (except for some meager palliatives in upper-class seminars) tends to develop notions and habits of thought inimical to the study of law either as a branch of human behavior or as a chapter in the book of human ideas. Legal education, in general, seeks to teach students 'how to think and act like lawyers' and turns its back on imparting 'mere facts.' 'Mere facts' (if this means rote learning) should of course not be the prime goal of education; but overemphasis on skills training has severe drawbacks of its own. It substitutes manipulation of data for understanding of data. In general, the law schools fail to teach the legal system as a whole, let alone the legal system as part of society; they teach disjointed fragments of a fragment.

The publication date of the book is 1965, and the breadth of Friedman's indictment (touching all of legal education except a few upper-class seminars) suggests that "skills training" had a broader meaning for him than it has today.