Can teaching students in doctrinal courses, using traditional case-oriented materials, convey some of the skills lawyers need to practice law effectively? While the recent interest in and debate over training practice-ready lawyers makes this a timely question, my thinking about this harks back to the mid-1990s, when Harry Wellington, then dean of New York Law School, suggested that faculty members consider teaching law from the lawyer’s perspective rather than from the perspective of either the judge or the legal scholar.
In traditional doctrinal courses in law school, like my own in family law, coverage is broad and time is short. Despite the pressures of time, there is a way to incorporate discussion of various skills of the lawyer into these courses. I here suggest that in a modest but meaningful way, professors teaching doctrinal courses might inject into class discussions matters such as the role of the lawyer in gathering evidence, using narrative techniques in presenting evidence, narrowing legal claims, naming and labeling parties, counseling clients, and dealing with experts.
Regular additions to class discussion of such matters could help students see the connections between doctrinal law and practice, stimulate thinking about how lawyers go about making a persuasive case on behalf of their clients, and reinforce the student’s learning in skills and experiential learning courses. I offer some examples from my own course, with the expectation that instructors of other doctrinal courses will have their own ideas for incorporating into class discussions these ways of thinking about the lawyer’s job.
A modest degree of discussion along the lines outlined in this essay might help show students the vital connections between reading judicial opinions in an academically rigorous manner, and practicing law in a persuasive, imaginative, and artful way.
65 Journal of Legal Education 207-228 (2015).