John is surely right to think that the New York Times has published an article that shows a total ignorance of what is good or bad in legal education. The first point that I would note is that there is no one pattern of education that is suitable for all students. There are some students, but usually not at elite law schools, who will hang out their shingle in small towns and who therefore have to be self-sufficient over the type of transactions that they do. They need form books of a certain sort, and have to know where to file papers and the like. But some of our students will work with complex financial institutions and will need to know huge amounts about the operation of various kinds of instruments, and the systems of regulation and contracts that are brought to bear on them. I have spent many years working in these environments, and the only way to be successful as a lawyer is to know large amount of material that the Times would think irrelevant. I am not thinking here about courses in feminism (which have their place in certain areas like family law), but courses like securities, corporations, antitrust, international trade, taxation and the like, where the so-called clinical approach would be sending people back for LLMs, which many of these students have to take anyhow to get up to speed. To think that knowing the form for a statutory merger is what this branch of law is about is correct for paralegals, but not for lawyers. For real deals one has to know about tax carryovers, about antitrust merger guidelines, about state approval procedures, about the integration of seniority lists, and so on down the line. The forms are such a tiny part of what lawyers do that it is mindboggling to think that this is more than a small part of a large mosaic.
There is one point on which I disagree with John, and that is on the role of common law courses, which I teach, and he does not. These courses have evolved enormously over the 43 years that I have taught. The types of cases we teach have migrated from traffic accidents to mass torts, from simple contracts of sales to large cooperative arrangements and the like. The tools from law and economics, legal history and comparative law have reshaped the discourse. The constant need to show how statutes influence the formation and enforcement of contracts also takes a larger amount of time. These courses have been cut back, and that may be strictly necessary with the larger statutory courses. But it is also deceptive. One cannot teach environmental law without knowing the common law of nuisance well, and one cannot teach securities law without knowing about common law rules of misrepresentation and fiduciary duty. Consequently, materials that are forced out of first year common law courses get repackaged in upper division courses. In practice, common law rules never disappear. They become integrated with newer developments.
In the end, the demands of a good legal education for all sorts of students are more formidable than ever before. The New York Times could certainly not get a job teaching at a law school with their pathetic approach to the subject matter.