Document Type

Article

Publication Title

William Mitchell Law Review

Publication Date

2008

Abstract

During the past thirty years, clinical legal education has become an important component of most law school curricula. In clinics, students, typically in their second or third year of law school, represent clients in actual cases in a legal aid office at the law school, pursuant to a court approved "student practice order."' Under the supervision of faculty members, students interview and counsel clients, investigate facts, research legal rules, negotiate with opposing parties, draft documents, and try and argue cases in court. Proponents of clinical education have urged the development and expansion of clinical programs to train students in the skills necessary to apply legal doctrine in practice. While few have argued that the traditional law school curriculum be replaced with an entirely clinical curriculum, many have suggested the introduction of courses using clinical methods during the first year and increased clinical offerings in the last two years. Just recently, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching published a major study of legal education lauding clinical education as one of "the law school's primary means of teaching students how to connect the abstract thinking formed by legal categories and procedures with fuller human contexts. And in the recent report, Best Practices for Legal Education, which professes to present a vision and road map for legal education, the authors argue that contextualized learning, such as clinical training, is the most effective and efficient way for students to develop professional competence.

While the proponents of clinical education identify a number of virtues for this pedagogy, much of the literature on the subject focuses on one major benefit: teaching modes of planning and analysis for problem solving in unstructured situations. Advocates of clinical education argue that traditional legal education has focused too narrowly on legal rules and doctrinal analysis. In his seminal article on the purposes of clinical legal education, Anthony Amsterdam complained that traditional legal education taught students only three kinds of analytic thinking: case reading and interpretation; doctrinal analysis and application; and logical conceptualization and criticism, while ignoring other modes of analysis that are essential for the practice of law. These neglected modes of analysis include: (1) ends-means thinking; (2) hypothesis formulation and testing in information acquisition; and (3) decision making in situations where options involve differing and often uncertain degrees of risk and promises of different sorts.

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