Russell and Duenes

Law School: Just One Good Book

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sleep“A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them.” – Charles Spurgeon

I was discussing law school the other day with some other students, and there was a general agreement that the busy-ness of the legal profession dictates much about how law school is structured. That is, far too much reading is assigned each semester in law school, and I assume both professors and students know it. All too often one either hears complaints about the amount of reading, or one hears students talking about all the assigned reading they’re not doing, instead turning to study aids and supplements intended to pare things down into a form that can be crammed for and memorized as finals approach.

No doubt some of this is due to laziness, but I know for myself, it is mostly a question of time. Further, even when I’m able to get to the reading, it is at most a superficial reading. I remember my Contracts professor informing students that they needed to read each assigned case twice in order to properly understand it. I agree with him. But there is absolutely no chance that I could possibly read each assigned case twice, even cursorily, and complete my assigned reading for each class. I particularly cannot do this when, in addition to my assigned reading, I’m given additional writing assignments that require me to carefully read significantly more cases and provide analysis in writing.

The current law school curriculum model seems likely to produce one or more of several results: Much less sleep that humans properly require (see my previous post), superficial analysis, or failure to read some cases at all. What it teaches is that we need to cut corners to “keep up.” It makes us superficial in our analysis. The other thing it breeds is a cynicism about the value of law school, with a concommitant attitude that it’s just a hurdle to “get through” so that one can be a lawyer. Of course this is a generalization, but widespread enough to be an indictment of the current model.

But doesn’t the work-a-day law job require this, because once we start working, we’re going to have to handle massive case loads which require quick reading of large quantities of material? Perhaps, and I cannot speak with any authority at this point, as I’m not a lawyer yet and have not spoken with enough attorneys about it. But I assume law professors give us the amount of work they do partly because they believe the law profession requires it and “hey, get used to it.” But surely this signals that something is wrong with our profession. Either we have too great a sense of self-importance attached to our work (likely), or we have not thought creatively about how things might change. Either way, I think Spurgeon’s dictum is correct. Less is more. Learning to work through fewer cases in law school, and to give them far more discussion on various levels, and ultimately, to master their lessons, would not only make us better lawyers, but wiser and better human beings as well. The amount of reading given to us certainly cannot be justified on the basis that we will need it to be good lawyers. Even my law clerking proves this to be untrue. So no, we do not need to cover all the material we cover in law school. If the ABA says we do, then it’s the ABA that needs to change.

Reading less, and mastering the material we do read, would give us better perspective by which to counsel our clients, and we’d live with a lot less stress.



Written by Michael Duenes

April 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm

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