For most law students, there is a moment when, in frustration or exhaustion, they throw up their hands and scream, "There must be a better way." While many of the cases in the casebooks are interesting, learning the law one case at a time seems, at best, inefficient, and at worst, just plain stupid. Wouldn't it be much easier, and better, if law schools used the same pedagogy that is used in many other disciplines: reading assignments, lectures, and exams that test whether students have learned the information set out in those textbooks and lectures?
When students question law school pedagogy, some law school professors respond by pointing out that law schools have been using the casebook method, and the form of Socratic questioning that typically accompanies it, since the method was first introduced by Christopher Columbus Langdell at Harvard in the 1870s. According to these professors, the casebook method is the best method because the primary goal of law schools is not to teach students the law but to teach them to "think like lawyers." Are these professors right? Did Langdell and Harvard get it right when they rejected more traditional pedagogies and adopted the casebook method?
This Article explores these questions in a different way than they are typically approached. First, this Article is different from other critiques of legal education because the primary source of information is not law school professors but educational psychologists, in particular, educational psychologists who study learning and transfer. Second, this Article is different because it is written in a way that illustrates one of the techniques that recent research indicates is likely to improve transfer. Part I requires the reader to do what has been labeled as "data analysis." Having done this data analysis, the reader moves to Part II of the Article, a "lecture" that summarizes the research on transfer. Part III presents a new task, a task in which the reader is asked to transfer what he or she learned in Part I and Part II to a new situation. Finally, Part IV describes and evaluates four different methods for teaching law.
Oates, Laurel Currie
"Legal Writing: Did Harvard Get It Right?,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 59:
2, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol59/iss2/5