Vanderbilt Law Review

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Law school reform is in the air. Many reformers agree that the prevailing law school model developed in the nineteenth century does not adequately prepare students to become effective twenty-first century lawyers. Langdell's case method, designed around private domestic law, appellate cases, and the Socratic method, increasingly fails to teach students "how to think like a lawyer" in the world students will occupy. The curriculum over-emphasizes adjudication and discounts many of the important global, transactional, and facilitative dimensions of legal practice. Law school has too little to do with what lawyers actually do and develops too little of the institutional, interpersonal, and investigative capacities that good lawyering requires. The Socratic method in the large classroom, though valuable as a way to teach sharp analytic skills, is ill-suited to fostering "legal imagination," which is what lawyers need most to become effective advocates, institutional designers, transaction engineers, and leaders. It also contributes to law student disengagement, particularly for women and people of color.

Forward-looking deans and faculty members have responded with a host of reforms focused on updating how law schools prepare students to "think like a lawyer." Law schools are experimenting with curriculum, course materials, legal writing programs, clinical education, faculty governance, class size, and even architecture. There is palpable energy for change among various constituencies concerned about legal education's future.

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