The art of argument (
by Steve Timmer
Dec 18, 2013, 8:30 PM

Among the things you do not want

Is a lawyer trained on the Internet

What is the law, really? When you get right down to it, the law is all about human relationships. It defines relationships: husband and wife (or now, husband and husband, and wife and wife; good on you, law), adjoining property owners, competing (!) motorists or motorists and pedestrians, employers and employees, producers and consumers, governments and citizens, and well, the list goes on.

The last person on earth will have no need of a legal system, because that person will not exist in relationship with anyone else.

Believe it or not, kids, the practice of law is the most intensely social profession out there. And to be any damn good at it you cannot learn it on a computer screen. To me, it is a horrifying prospect. The profession hardly needs more people who can spit out rules with little understanding of the humanity behind them.

Yet, that’s what William Mitchell College of Law, the second oldest law school in Minnesota, proposes to do. But put me down in the former dean’s camp:

Prof. Douglas Heidenreich, a former dean of the school, was one of the dissenters. “I don’t think it’s a good approach for education in general,” he said. “I think there is something about legal education that makes the direct, face-to-face contact important.”

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that prepares you for the practice of law like having a professor who questions every word that comes out of your mouth. (There is no computer screen extant that could ever bark at you the way Jack Cound did; Jack was actually a lovable guy; we just didn’t realize it at the time.) It’s like the military: first it breaks you down, and then it builds you back up. I am entirely serious here.

It is perhaps obvious that I am a fan of American Socratic legal education. For making advocates, it has no equal. And I will bet you all a quarter, kids, that the best ones will still be made the old fashioned way.

Update: It is a regrettable fact that one of the persons who most enjoys harpooning my opinions is MNO. Here is what she wrote about this post:

They used to say that about nighttime law school. Unless you devoted every waking moment to law school, how could you ever be a real lawyer?

Yes, MNO, true. But in night law school you still had to go eyeball to eyeball with a professor armed with a seating chart.

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