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Ed Brewer

While the points about law-school excesses and quality of teaching are well taken, I think Ann's comment needs to be given its due as well. Some students entering law school do expect to be made "happy" by a magic potion that they believe law professors obligated to pour through their open mouths and down their throats, and that will make them "lawyers." My own view, as I tell my students every year, is that we have three (or four) years together during which I have the opportunity and the privilege of helping them turn themselves into lawyers. I remind them that they have to take care of their own spirits and bodies, as well as their relationships with families and other loved ones, and that those matters come first. Most of us understand one another about who is responsible for what. If they aren't adults by the point they get to their first year of law school--and some of them are not (I wasn't)--they need to get that way before they are turned over to a profession that will eat them for lunch, regardless of whose fault it may be that that didn't happen. This is not a new idea: "bring up a child in the way in which it should go, and when it is old, it will not depart from it." (Prov. 22:6.) I certainly agree that we need to re-think and re-create legal education along the lines that positive psychology, among other critics, suggests. I also think that with rare exceptions, law faculties are woefully unqualified to undertake that task. Certainly I am, so I try to listen to colleagues who are qualified. But as regards helping our students learn to "think like a lawyer," we really don't have a choice about whether we are going to do that or not. Ann is right about that, she addressed a question worth addressing and did not attempt to develop a unified theory of legal education, and she was speaking from a perspective that both retains value and will retain value at least until legal education has remade itself in many ways. All faculty members and “camps” of “classroom,”, “skills,” and “clinical” faculty need to pull together instead of taking pot-shots at one another’s perspectives on our common endeavor. When we do that, we resemble nothing so much as the seven wise, blind persons surrounding and describing the elephant.


We bully students, thereby teaching them to bully each other, and later, bully the public. It impresses me to no end that states such as Connecticut are ready to put a law on the books that prevents bullying in employment, but law school professors like Professor White find it okay in the classroom.


Maybe a way to improve the situation is not from the health/ personality point of view but from the performance one. It is clear today that anxiety can affect quality of thinking, working memory and decision-making.

We can change the structure, and/ or how students are ready to deal with that structure. At the very least universities should consider introducing emotional self-regulation and stress management (through meditation, yoga or biofeedback) as part of what will enable law students to succeed in life...and school.


My very first law school experience was walking into an 8:00 AM contracts class taught by J.J. White. He was tough, exacting, and demanding. It is fair for him to assert that the Socratic method works for him, because unlike most professors who claim to teach socraticaly, he uses that technique effectively. He falls among the few law professors I had who would have every right to ask those who would have him change his methods, "Where's your evidence that your way will work better"? (Subtract the dry humor from the quote above, and that is in fact what he's challenging the critics of law school teaching to do.)

I agree with your overall criticisms of law school and the teaching techniques used in law school. But at the same time, I have to give the devil his due. Had all of my law school professors been as dedicated, hard-working, and skilled in their teaching methods as Professor White, I would have learned a lot more and, frankly, I think I would have been happier. The professors I found most frustrating were those who defended their poor teaching methods with the claim that they were teaching us to think like lawyers, and those who tried to cover for their lack of preparation for class or perhaps even their lack of knowledge of the material they were supposed to be teaching by pretending their haphazard quizzing of students was "the Socratic method". I often had the impression that Professor White spent more time preparing for class than most of his students. - Positive Psychology Blog

Dave, great article. This is what you've always been telling us is the problem with law schools and then, later, with the legal profession! That it's a slow drift to the wrong direction. Thanks.

I like your title too.

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Dave's Schedule:

  • August 19 "The Many Connections Between Well-Being and Professionalism in the Practice of Law: Implications for Teaching", Association of American Law Schools, New York, NY

    January 21 "Resilience for Law Students, George Washington University School of Law, Washington, DC

    February 13-15 American Association of School Administrators National Conference, Nashville, TN