The typical law school pedagogy suffers from a ham butt problem. As the story goes, a woman was preparing a ham dinner when she carefully cut off the ham butt before putting the ham in the oven to bake. A friend asked her why she did that. She said she did it because her mother did it. Why did her mother do it? She had no idea. So she asked her mother, why do you cut off the ham butt before putting it in the oven? Her mother said she did it because her mother did it. What was the reason? She did not know, but she should ask her grandmother. So, she did. Her grandmother told her a baking pan she once had was too small, so she cut off the butt to make the ham fit.
While tradition may have explained the act, the reasons for its origin were long lost, or never known, and likely no longer relevant. The tradition was comforting, but the act occurred without thinking. This lack of thought is the curse of tradition. Without thought and rational reasoning, tradition stifles the adaptations required to evolve and adapt to changing demands and conditions. And so it is with law school pedagogy.
Some years ago, editors of a law review questioned a statement I made in an article that the days of The Paper Chase in law school were over. Understandably, a statement about The Paper Chase would not be clear to the editors who knew nothing about a movie made long before they were born, so I thought their point was well-taken. To establish the connection I wanted to make with the movie, I rented it to get a fresh perspective. To my surprise, my thesis was bogus: not a darn thing had changed in the law school classroom. The professor still ran the show using a quasi-Socratic style of questioning in a course for which no textbook existed, only a casebook containing a collection of edited cases. How is it that after decades of critiques and studies by scholars and outside evaluators alike, everything remained the same? It is a ham butt problem: tradition.
Jacobson, M.H. Sam
"The Curse of Tradition in the Law School Classroom: What Casebook Professors Can Learn from Those Professors Who Teach Legal Writing,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 61:
3, Article 9.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol61/iss3/9