Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Legal education exists at the confluence of three activities: the practice of law, the enterprise of understanding that practice, and the study of law's possible understandings within the context of a university. The first of these, the practice of law, consists of the activities consciously governed by law, including, for example, lawyers giving legal advice, citizens contemplating the legality of prospective actions, legislators creating law within the limits of their jurisdiction, and judges determining the rights and duties of litigants. It thus comprehends the entire field of legal institutions, legal doctrine, and legal interaction. The second activity, the enterprise of understanding law, refers to the elucidation of the character of this practice. This enterprise seeks to determine the extent to which the practice's various characteristics can be grasped as exhibiting, through the coherence of their interrelationships, some generically determinate character. The third activity, university study, requires that the student's reflections about law be appropriate to an institution devoted to caring for the intellectual inheritance-the stock of ideas, images, beliefs, skills and modes of thinking-that compose the world's civilization.'

These three activities exercise a reciprocal effect on one another. On the one hand, the practice of law supplies the materials that are to be understood through university study. On the other hand, that practice is transformed by the very enterprise of articulating understandings of it. Scholars are not merely the passive recipients of the law's materials. Rather, their understandings influence the practice by making practitioners conscious of the possibilities that are implicit in it. When these understandings originate in the universities and are thus invested with the authority of prestigious institutions of learning, the practice of law itself can become either (at best) more aware of law's distinct voice in the conversation of civilized humanity or (worse) more prone to succumb to prevailing academic orthodoxies.

The central challenge that has faced legal education since it was wrested from the legal profession and lodged in the universities has been how to integrate the three activities. The relation between the practice and the university study of law has proved particularly problematic. One influential critique of legal education laments the growing disjunction between them: