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Law: A Trade or a Profession?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, two female professors from Boston University Law School addressed this issue. Apparently, in a prior article, Cameron Stracher, publisher of New York Law School Law Review and co-director of the program in Law & Journalism, berated legal education and the qualification of law students. He argued that practicing law does not require intellectual work, that it is a skill acquirable by mere practice and repetition. Stracher discussed a paralegal who practiced law without a license, summarizing his view: “He blustered, bluffed, threatened and cajoled with the best of them. He knew the law and argued it capably. But then…he learned his trade the old-fashioned way: He practiced it.” Sadly, it seems Stracher views law as something akin to an 18th century “trade” rather than a profession. Throughout their article, the BU Law School professors invalidate Stracher’s theory, asserting that an apprenticeship model is not what legal education should be based on. The professors stress the importance of teaching law students “to use their brains.” Law school should teach students to reason logically, clearly and consistently, in addition to training them to write and “read legal opinions and statutes with great care.” Acknowledging that law schools have clinical programs to give students more hands-on experience, the authors believe that the best practice comes after law school, when observing and learning from partners and mentors. However, they maintain that the intellectual foundation necessary to practicing law, comes from law school. As a current law student, I sometimes wonder whether my substantive classes are preparing me for life after I graduate – or even for a summer job, for that matter. I periodically fear that I will arrive at my judge’s chambers this summer and have no idea what I am doing. I understand that my substantive courses are teaching me how to reason, and how to “think like a lawyer,” as they say. But is thinking like a lawyer the same as being a lawyer? At the moment I’m torn on whether I think law school should require more practical training as part of its normal curriculum. Of course, I’ll have a much better idea of how well my law school education is training me for my eventual career once I graduate and actually try to make a living; but for now, despite my occasional worry that I will be starting from scratch once I enter the workforce, I am content enjoying my substantive classes and exercising my brain.

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