Review: The Analytic Classroom

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By Rory Bahadur from Washburn University School of Law

Todd F. Pettys, The Analytic Classroom, 60 Buffalo Law Review 1255 (2012) [Read fulltext at SUNY Buffalo website (463 KB)]

Professor Pettys begins his article with the following quote from Karl Llewellyn, “We have learned so relatively well how to do one kind of teaching that we sit Narcissus-like before the pool. We go on teaching cases–and do too little teaching else. Well, then, so be it.”

The article suggests that the downturn in the economy has created a “sense of reformist urgency among legal educators.” This reform movement has forced legal educators to examine whether traditional Socratic legal education achieves the stated goal of cognitive training or teaching lawyers to think like lawyers.

The empirical research based on three recent studies cited in the article suggests that Socratic legal education does not succeed. Pettys therefore offers three alternative teaching methods that actually achieve the goals the Socratic teachers mistakenly believe they are achieving in their classrooms. The first of these suggestions is the flipped classroom. The flipped classroom combines online and face-to-face instruction and resulted in 35% better learning outcomes for students.

Second, Pettys suggests and describes a method that involves problematizing through premise-identification. This method involves classes as a whole understanding the basic assumptions of a court opinion and then working together to identify flaws in the argument and to identify and discuss ways those flaws could be addressed.

The author also suggests:

  1. Socratic writing which results in more precise legal arguments than oral work. When combined with the appropriate technology, such as laptops projecting onto a screen visible by the entire class, the students’ writing could easily become an analytical launching pad for class discussion.
  2. Reverse engineering exams or having students draft examination questions based on the doctrine they have already covered in a class and challenging the rest of the class to try to issue spot and construct what they think the perfect answer would be.
  3. Interdisciplinary critiques or incorporating other disciplines such as economics, sociology, political science, philosophy, which can, in the author’s view, “shed light on the legal system and the choices actors make within it.”
  4. Ends-Means thinking and confronting the unknown where students evaluate “a range of possible outcomes for a client and a range of possible means of achieving those outcomes.”

This is a well-researched article on the efficacy or lack thereof of particular legal pedagogical techniques, and it suggests alternative approaches to teaching that are all well thought out and supported by solid educational research.

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