Law Students in Need of Epistemic Experience

Photo Credit: Laura Pedrick for The New York Times

Law schools are failing students by not teaching them how to practice law according to an article in the New York Times. Practical application is left for students to learn after graduation.

The article frames the issue simply.

“What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training.  Law schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful…”

If students never learn the basics of practice, does graduating mean they have become lawyers? Jeffery W. Carr, the general counsel of FMC Technologies, says no.

“They are lawyers in the sense that they have law degrees, but they aren’t ready to be a provider of services.” Carr told the New York Times.

Students are suffering because they are not taught to think like lawyers, to use their skills, knowledge and culture to see the world like a lawyer. When they graduate with a diploma they know a lot of theory, but they don’t have the epistemic frame of a lawyer.

David Segal, New York Times reporter, places the blame on universities, as law school professors are chosen for scholarly thinking rather than experience. In fact, experience may even hurt one’s prospects of becoming a professor.

“It can be fatal, because the academy wants people who are not sullied by the practice of law,” explained one lawyer turned professor.

Lack of faculty experience presents a mentoring problem. How are teachers, who have very little experience themselves, in a position to show students how to think like lawyers?

Some schools are looking to make changes. What they need is an epistemic model, to teach an epistemic frame, and turn students into lawyers.

GAPS is housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.