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Chicago Law Prof Boldly Makes the Case for One Year Law School

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In an op/ed on Bloomberg, Chicago Law professor Martha Nussbaum has made the bold assertion that law school needs to only be one year long:

When William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, proposed to add a law school to the new university in 1902, he entrusted the project to Ernst Freund, a political-science professor, former practicing lawyer and well-known expert on police power and the free-speech rights of dissidents.

Freund argued that law students shouldn’t simply learn practical strategies (as in the old days when law was taught by apprenticeship) and the technical rules known as “black letter law.” Rather, they should have an education that also included economics, sociology, political theory and philosophy.

When Harper asked whether this curriculum wasn’t better suited to a “research department of jurisprudence” rather than to the worldly practitioner, Freund said absolutely not. Practitioners will go out into a society where all is not well, and they had better be equipped to think broadly, critically and independently about it. Otherwise, they would simply be tools in the hands of powerful interests, Freund said.

His vision of legal education gradually won out. Once Chicago was an outlier; now it is just one example of the dominant idea of legal education. Today, in addition to basic law subjects and a variety of practice-oriented courses, law students learn to see society through the lens of the social sciences and the humanities, primarily in elective courses taken during the second and third years.

This appears on the surface to be making the case for a three year program, with second and third years filled up with a grab bag of humanities and social sciences classes. However, this argument leads to the logical conclusion that all that is needed is the first year. You see, most law students have already spent four years studying the humanities. They already possess that lens through which to view society and the law. Thus, we should conclude that Nussbaum is arguing that the 2L and 3L years be waived for students possessing an undergraduate degree in the humanities.

We must reach this conclusion because the alternative is that Nussbaum thinks this necessary humanities education can come only from law professors, most of whom lack the education and publication history necessary to be a humanities professor. This is of course absurd, and applying a little reductio, we conclude that Nussbaum thinks the undergraduate humanities education suffices.

 

Of course that's wishful thinking. Nussbaum is perfectly fine with wasting law students' time and money no matter how absurdly it is done:

A perusal of examples will begin to show what such courses can offer the future practitioner. A student at Chicago (similar to other law schools) might take a class with a leading criminologist, studying philosophical theories of punishment and the history of prisons -- and then visit the maximum-security prison at Joliet, Illinois, the only surviving North American exemplar of Jeremy Bentham’s famous “panopticon” (where everyone is watched all the time). A future lawyer would gain an invaluable set of tools, philosophical and historical, for thinking independently and critically about a broken system of imprisonment.

It is of course important for lawyers of all stripes to understand the basic theories of criminal punishment -- deterrence, retribution, rehabilitation, isolating dangerous individuals. That's maybe a week out of 1L criminal law. But the field trip to Joilet to see a piece of prison design that is used no where in the nation, and possibly no where in the world? That's truly absurd. What's next from Nussbaum? Is she going to tell us how for just $50,000 a year, students at Chicago have the opportunity to engage in critically mind expanding conferences discussing the intersection of progressive gender politics with legal systems in force in exactly zero nations?


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