A Good Start, but not Quite

Claudio Grossman is the Dean of the American University Washington College of Law and the Chair of the United Nations Committee against Torture. 

In his article, “Exporting Legal Education: Lessons Learned From Efforts in Transition Countries” (Harvard International Review, Summer 2010), Professor Ronald Brand recommends that the current discussion regarding the reform of US legal education take into account the impact that any such changes would have outside of the United States, in particular to those nations he refers to as “transition countries.”  I agree, along with Brand, that it is valuable to consider the impact of US legal education reforms on foreign lawyers and legal systems, but for reasons that go beyond those identified by Brand, which lead to different conclusions about the value of legal education reforms. 

Based on his conversations with students involved, the author relates that what the foreign Master of Laws (LL.M.) students value the most from their US education, and moreover what is indeed the hallmark of US legal education, is its ability to teach universally applicable problem-solving skills. He argues that the traditional system in place today, including case method instruction, provides necessary skills training, and that further vocational training (a term that Brand unfortunately does not define) may actually be undesirable. 

The author makes a valid point on the importance of the impact of legal education on others.  Along with the moral imperative of considering the impact of our actions on “the other,” pragmatic considerations deserve exploration.  US legal education attracts thousands of foreign lawyers, resulting in educational opportunities as well as important professional networking possibilities.  In addition, this educational experience contributes to the development of a common language supporting the rule of law.  From this perspective, then, the impact on others is a legitimate consideration in discussions concerning legal education reform. 

Assessing the impact on others is a positive step. But Brand’s the data regarding why foreign lawyers enroll in US LL.M. programs reveal more reasons than just learning “how to solve problems.”  While a transformation that will destroy the ability to “solve problems” must be rejected, Professor Brand does not provide sufficient information as to why adding transnational components to the curriculum, including during the first-year of legal education, integrating skills with doctrinal courses, or educating future lawyers using materials not restricted to judicial decisions, are detrimental to the development of vital problem-solving skills.  To the contrary, it would appear that these valuable initiatives would enrich the development of these important skills.  Equally, Professor Brand does not specifically identify the needs of transition countries and the related skills and values required by their legal profession.

Aside from failing to consider the cultural broadening, academic enrichment, and professional opportunities associated with obtaining an LL.M. in the United States, Brand’s analysis suffers from other limitations.  Second, there is competition from Europe in their dedicated reassessment of legal education in an internationalized setting that invites our own re-examination. Third, the domains of ethics and global legal responsibility regrettably suffer from insufficient consideration in US legal education, despite their seminal importance to law. Also, the United States needs to expand on its strength in teaching classes with full –time faculty by offering more of such courses to foreign law students. Finally, much more needs to be done by way of creating collaborative programs between law schools to allow cross-border interaction and meaningful debate. Wallowing into complacency about the US legal education system is not an option. 

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Claudio Grossman

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