Vanderbilt Law Review


Wayne S. Hyatt

First Page



Back in the mid-eighties, I offered a first year, second semester "un-elective" called American Legal Theory and American Legal Education. It scrunched together two history courses I had taught irregularly before. I liked the way the two topics fit together and still do, but with so many recalcitrant law students enrolled in it, the course was an unmitigated disaster. As is always the case with such attempts at offering perspective, amidst the shambles I had acquired at least a few devoted students. At the end of the last class one of them came up to the front to ask a somewhat rhetorical question. He said, "Do I read you correctly? You have been arguing that if we want to change legal education, we have to change the categories of legal thought?" I nodded in agreement, to which he replied, "You know that's gonna be damn hard?"

I remember this comment not just because of the student's insight but also because it pretty much marked the end to my active participation in attempts at significantly reforming the curriculum at the University at Buffalo Law School. An attempt to comprehensively reform the first-year curriculum had recently broken down when one crucial participant offered a "my way or the highway" alternative that none of us could understand. Such a result was a fitting tombstone to a career that had started back in 1967 when I was a third-year law student. Gerhard Casper, then new to the University of Chicago Law School faculty, gathered a group of my classmates together to discuss revision of that school's curriculum. As a member of this group, I suggested that the first year be given over to tutorial work designed to bring all students up to master's degree level of competence in a range of relevant social sciences.

World Report rankings respect practitioners' inputs as one criterion in the ranking process. But the reader should also consider me as one who is gravely concerned about legal education because I am gravely concerned about the practice-the profession-of law. And it is that concern that I wish to discuss with you.

Let us all acknowledge at the outset that the practice of law is under stress from both internal and external sources. Candidly and sadly, a primary cause of the stress is the rise of greed and a corresponding focus on "self esteem." Too often lawyers, and citizens at large, look at every situation as one in which there must be a winner and a loser. This win-lose mentality leads to a shocking decline in civic engagement. Therefore, one should readily acknowledge that a great deal of the problem of internal and external stresses in the practice of law rests on the bar and on its members. However, that determination is not the entire answer.