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In NH visit, Scalia critiques legal education

Union Leader Correspondent

March 23. 2013 12:35AM

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to alumni of the University of New Hampshire School of Law on Friday night at the Wentworth by the Sea hotel in New Castle as the school celebrates its 40th anniversary. (Photo Courtesy of UNH Photographic Services)

NEW CASTLE - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia offered a three-tiered critique of law education in America during a speech to an alumni gathering of the University of New Hampshire School of Law at the Wentworth by the Sea hotel on Friday night.

Among the problems Scalia pointed to were a growth of non-legal subjects in law school curriculums, the virtual disappearance of the prescribed curriculum and the increasing irrelevance of legal scholarship.

He traced the history of legal education, and the seeds of virtue and of some future vice to the case law method introduced by Christopher Columbus Langdell to the Harvard Law School in 1870.

"In the 140 or so years that have passed since Langdell came onto the scene, the practical virtue of American law schools as a device for the teaching of law has failed," Scalia said.

Part of this is because modern law schools see themselves as a place to get more than a legal education, he said.

"Today among a mixture of other subjects . an examination of the prospectus of any American law school will reveal a number of 'law and' courses - law and literature, law and feminism, law and poverty, law and economics, etc, etc.," Scalia said.

He said some classes have no law in them at all.

He said the problem is compounded by the ready availability of electives of varying quality and difficulty.

He said there needs to be more professors teaching basic law classes, but he does not expect to see that happen in the near future. He said in many law schools, basic classes are understaffed, as professors focus on teaching the more highly specialized topics they tend to be researching.

Another "discouraging" development in law schools has been the increasingly hard to understand, esoteric nature of much of the scholarship produced by law faculties, of no value to practitioner, Scalia said.

"In earlier years, many practitioners subscribed to the most prominent law reviews . as a means of keeping abreast of development of the law. Those years are long gone," Scalia said.

He said the academic mindset removed from practice is illustrated in the make-up of many law school faculties.

He said professors are more often valued for the quality and quantity of work they publish than the quality of their teaching, and this needs to change.

"The influence law professors have through their teaching . will far exceed whatever impact they are likely to have . through publication," Scalia said.

Scalia concluded by saying he hoped that most of what he said has no application to the UNH Law School.

Jordan Budd, associate dean for academic affairs at UNH School of Law said he is happy to say it does not.

"It was music to my ears because it is a critique we fully embrace and that our law school is at the forefront of advancing," Budd said.

He said the faculty has substantial practice experience, many in sophisticated, challenging legal settings, and produce what they refer to as "consequential" scholarship focused on relevant issues of law.

Courses focus on basic law including Constitutional law, tort law and professional responsibility.

"His critique of legal education is kind of the theme of UNH School of Law," Budd said.

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