Legal Pedagogy: Broadening the Conversation

curiousity-Einstein-Quotes

Richard and Daniel Susskind argue in the Future of the Professions that technology will displace traditional ways of working. To respond to this, our law schools need to go beyond teaching black letter law. We need to embrace inter-disciplinary education. It is not enough to just select students from different faculties. We must also select teachers from different faculties.

Yes, law schools need to teach the fundamentals. Property, contracts, tort, criminal, family, constitutional law, etc. But it’s not enough to just know the basics. Future work demands creativity and breadth of knowledge.

One way to address this problem is to allow students to take extra coursework from a different faculty. It could be done on a pass/fail basis. Another way to address this may be to invite professors from other faculties to teach on related issues.

For example, it always struck me as odd the way law schools teach constitutional law. In constitutional law class, we would go from one case to the other in a matter of minutes,  learning the ratio decidendi from each case. We would gloss over the history, the politics, the philosophy underpinning each case.

The repatriation of the constitution is not a five minute lecture. But what would take classes to go through in a political science class, we sped through in a matter of minutes. Rushing to cram in the rules from each case. And for what? A grade? The bar exam?

I would have loved the opportunity to learn case law along side learning philosophy, history, politics, behavioural economics, women studies, literature, and neuroscience. Law does not happen in a vacuum. Understanding the influences on the development of our laws is important. And asking why our laws look the way they do is equally important.

We need to encourage future lawyers to ask the hard questions. What does equality really mean? What makes something fair? What does rule of law really mean? How do judges and juries really decide cases? Simply teaching for the bar exam is not enough.

What’s the point if students leave school without thinking critically? What good is it for students to focus on regurgitation? The Internet has externalized knowledge. It is what we do with that knowledge that makes lawyers special. By incorporating other disciplines, we can train better lawyers. We can give students the skills to use knowledge differently.

Law schools overvalue teaching black letter law. And I see this as a product of a precedent based system and a culture that overvalues our central executive mode. To quote neuroscience Daniel Levitin “Many creative artists and scientists report that they don’t know where their best ideas came from… In this see-saw of attention, Western culture overvalues the central executive mode, and undervalues the daydreaming mode. The central executive approach to problem solving is often diagnostic, analytic, and impatient, whereas the daydreaming approach is playful, intuitive, and relaxed.”

I hope that with the changes in our profession, we see a change in our schools. That we see our law schools embrace other disciplines and other ways of thinking.

Advertisements