Crossing the Bar - The Column of the Legal Education Committee

Crossing the Bar--Collaboration on Legal Education


by Deborah B. Luyster

Law school is the common unifying experience of all lawyers. For most of us, however, after graduation that grueling test of our mental and physical limits becomes something reminiscent of a past life endured on another planet. We turn our back on that world even though what and how it taught, or did not teach, affects not only our abilities as lawyers but also the quality and competency of the profession overall. Ironically, those whose lives and professions law school education most affects know the least about curricular planning and decisions. Yet, this same group, encompassing lawyers in practice and the judiciary, possesses the greatest expertise and incentive to improve their own continuing development as lawyers through participation in legal education issues.

On behalf of the Committee on Legal Education, I am pleased to introduce a regular column discussing current issues about law school education. According to the State Bar Bylaws, Article VI, Section 1, our committee’s jurisdiction is:

to monitor the opportunities for and quality of legal education and academic requisites for admission to and practice as a member of the Bar and promoting appropriate improvements.

One way of meeting this mandate is fostering communication between lawyers teaching in the law schools and practicing lawyers and judges. We urge all lawyers to participate by suggesting discussion topics and/or becoming guest columnists.

Everyone knows of the work to bridge the gap between life as a law student and as a practicing attorney, but similar efforts to bridge the gap between the academy and the practicing members of the bar are relatively nonexistent. Yet, such efforts are as important as the transitional work for new lawyers, because by crossing this bridge the law professors, the judiciary, and practitioners can do the most to strengthen the proficiency and professional conduct of lawyers.

Ample authority supports establishing this dialogue. In 1992, the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession, chaired by former ABA President Robert MacCrate, produced what is commonly called ‘‘The MacCrate Report’’ and subtitled ‘‘Narrowing the Gap.’’ The task force, consisting of lawyers, judges, and law school faculty and deans, proposed an educational continuum for legal education and professional development that envisioned law school education as a better, more comprehensive preparation of students in fundamental skills and professional values.

The report moves discussions of theoretical and practical law school pedagogy out of the law reviews and before a broader audience who have the largest stake in law school education. Only through comprehensive training and continued educational development of lawyers can the effectiveness and public perception of the profession improve.

In his keynote address for a symposium on the 21st Century lawyer, MacCrate said the report should ‘‘be continually viewed as a work in progress to promote discussion and reflection, both in the academy and in the profession at large.’’1 All lawyers, the report emphasized, are responsible for ‘‘maintaining and striving to improve the profession.’’2 According to MacCrate,

The task force visualized legal educators, practicing lawyers, and members of the judiciary as being engaged in a common and continuing enterprise—the education and professional development of members of the legal profession.3

MacCrate traveled throughout the states, including Michigan, urging acceptance of the report’s message.4 The most significant challenge of MacCrate’s words for purposes of the legal education committee is his encouragement of ‘‘State Bars to bring together the law schools, the organized bar, and the judicial regulators in their states to explore the roles each can play in building the educational continuum of professional development.’’5

While our law reviews frequently include valuable information on legal education issues,6 they cannot fulfill MacCrate’s call to unite lawyers for such a vital common purpose; this is the organized bar’s duty. MacCrate said:

law schools recognize that education in a broad array of lawyering skills and fundamental professional values should be central to their mission and that law schools have an obligation to prepare their graduates to participate effectively in their profession.7

The practicing bar cannot criticize law schools for not meeting their obligation if we do not accept our own obligation of jointly defining the requirements for effective participation in the legal profession. The academy and organized bar are not adversaries living in different worlds, but two parts of the educational continuum the MacCrate Report describes as necessary for our continued growth, respect, and survival as lawyers.

Although this column, like law reviews, clings to the written format, we see it as the opening forum for continuing dialogue among practicing lawyers, law school faculty, the judiciary, and law school students that will initiate panels, symposia, and other programs on legal education topics. Those topics could include the teaching of ethics, the advantages of problem solving and Socratic teaching methods, the discrepancy between teaching law and teaching to pass the bar exam, and the balance of teaching theory and practical law skills.

Another authority supporting the committee’s work is the Bar Journal’s July 1998 theme issue on legal education. In that issue, former State Bar President James K. Robinson described his work to lessen the disjunction between law schools and the profession during his tenure as Wayne State University Law School Dean. Robinson stressed ‘‘the need for cooperation between all elements of the legal profession to meet the serious challenges facing the profession.’’8 Our committee benefits from a varied membership, consisting of lawyers from the academy and from all facets of practice, who will help us consider the disjunction of what many see as two cultures and meet the challenges Robinson cites.

We hope our work inspires an extended collaborative and communicative process to ensure that our law schools are both ‘‘schools of law’’ and ‘‘lawyer schools’’ and that legal education and professional development become priorities for us all. The future of our profession, the respect in which it and we are held, and the ability to represent our clients with the fullest competency will all benefit directly from the effort. Watch here for further discussion, but don’t just watch—join in! If you would rather comment directly to the committee, e-mail me at dluyster@netscape.net

Footnotes

1 MacCrate, Robert, ‘‘The 21st Century Lawyer: Is There a Gap to be Narrowed?’’ 69 Wash L Rev 515, 522 (1994).

2 Id. at 523.

3 Id. at 524.

4 See MacCrate, Robert, ‘‘The Shared Responsibility for a Profession,’’ 80 Marq L Rev 745; MacCrate, Robert, ‘‘Lecture on Legal Education,’’ 30 Wake Forest L Rev 261.

5 MacCrate, ‘‘21st Century,’’ supra n 1, at 524.

6 See inter alia Edwards, Harry T., ‘‘The Growing Disjunction Between Legal Education and the Legal Profession,’’ 91 Mich L Rev 34 (1992) Responses to Judge Edwards’ article in 91 Mich L Rev 1921-2190 (1993); Edwards, Harry T., ‘‘The Growing Disjunction Between Legal Education and the Legal Profession: A Postscript,’’ 91 Mich L Rev 2191 (1993); Transcript: ‘‘The Second Driker Forum for Excellence in the Law,’’ 42 Wayne L Rev 115 (115).

7 MacCrate, ‘‘Lecture,’’ supra n 4, at 264.

8 Robinson, James K., ‘‘‘May You Live in Interesting Times’—The Future of Legal Education,’’ 77 Michigan Bar Journal 650, 654 (1998).



Deborah Brumback Luyster is the chairperson of the Legal Education Committee of the State Bar of Michigan and a member of the Bar Journal Advisory Board. She has taught writing, literature, and journalism at several Michigan schools, including Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Western Michigan University. She also has been a writer and editor for several publications around the country. She practiced law in Maryland and Virginia before moving to Michigan. Presently, she is completing her doctoral dissertation from Michigan State University, with a concentration in British Literature and Law and Literature. She received her J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law, an MA in English from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Goucher College in Maryland.


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