Each year new crops of wide-eyed 1Ls listen to law professors opine that they must learn how to "think like a lawyer.” Yet, as the New York Time’s David Segal pointed out in a recent article entitled “What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering,” the law-school curriculum has, for more than a century now, “emphasized the theoretical over the useful.” But to quote the great Bob Dylan, “The times they are a-changin.’”
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (here), many of the nation’s top law schools “are throwing out decades of tradition by replacing textbook courses” with courses like Indiana Law’s “course of so-called emotional intelligence,” Harvard Law’s new “problem-solving class for first-year students,” and Stanford’s “full-time clinical course” in which students must complete “several 40-hour plus weeks of actual case work” to graduate.
Professor Sarah Ricks of the Rutgers School of Law was nice enough to send me a courtesy copy of her new casebook, which she coauthored with Professor Evelyn Tenenbaum of Albany Law School, entitled Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation: A Context and Practice Casebook (Carolina Academic Press 2011). As the title suggests, this casebook is designed to help students think about the law from the perspective of a practicing lawyer. Like many of the great casebooks on the subject that have come before it, Issues in Constitutional Litigation covers the landmark Supreme Court cases with intelligent commentary and thoughtful organization. Unlike many of the great casebooks on the subject that have come before it, the book also focuses on federal circuit decisions, with a particular emphasis on both established and emerging circuit splits. Each chapter also strives to capture the human element of practicing law--something that legal opinions frequently fail to convey. Students will read letters from inmates, review historical documents like the 1867 cover of Harper's Weekly depicting black men casting their "first vote," receive practice pointers from seasoned veterans, and receive exposure to a host of other "real-world" issues that help bring the cases to life.
To be clear, Issues in Constitutional Litigations does not trash the traditional casebook model. The important cases are all still there. Instead, the book improves upon the old casebook model in two important ways. First, it places each case in a broader context that helps explain the doctrinal developments that might otherwise feel counterintuitive or arbitrary to students who limit their study of the subject to the four corners of the opinions.
Second, the book emphasizes the advocate's role in shaping the development of constitutional law. This is a critical component of thinking like a lawyer; and one that the casebook/Socratic method tends to neglect. The biggest criticism I have heard from seasoned attorneys about their freshly minted colleagues--which I largely attribute to the casebook/Soctratic method of teaching--is that law students graduate with the impression that they are supposed to analyze and apply the law in a disinterested, neutral manner as they might in the classroom when called on by their professor to recite the previous night's reading assignment. Issues in Constitutional Litigation does an excellent job illustrating the relationship that attorneys have with the court and their client, as well as the active role attorneys play in shaping the law through zealous advocacy for their client's interests. In other words, the book focuses the reader's attention on the process through which constitutional law is made, not solely on the finished product of that process.
The book, Professor Ricks explains, accomplishes this by "plac[ing] students in roles as practitioners handling simulated law practice problems" and provides a more engaging learning experience through the use of "exercises, visual aids, and questions to guide student reading." The book also "includes materials that help students reflect on their professional roles.” You can purchase Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation online here. Tomorrow’s post will feature an excerpt from the book that you won’t want to miss.