Curriculm Should Focus on Problem-Solving Skills
The Law Teacher, Volume 2, number 1 (Fall 1994), p. 11.
About the Author
Paul S. Ferber is a professor of law and director of the General Practice Program at Vermont Law School. For more information, contact him at Vermont Law School, P.O. Box 96, Chelsea Street, South Royalton, VT 05068, (802) 763-8303, FAX (802) 763-7159.
Law school curricula need a radical rethinking. Traditional legal education lacks a coherent underlying set of principles.
Problem-solving, which is the core of lawyering, provides that set of principles. It includes all the other basic skills, and ought to be the basis of the curriculum. Problem-solving involves five steps:
- identifying and diagnosing the problem;
- generating alternative solutions and strategies;
- developing a plan of action;
- implementing the plan of action; and
- keeping the planning process open to new data and ideas.
Inherent in these steps are the following skills: legal analysis and reasoning; legal research; factual investigation; communication; counseling; negotiation; litigation and alternate dispute resolution; organization and management of legal work; and recognition and resolution of ethical dilemmas.
The entire professional skills and professionalization curriculum should be built around students' learning to become increasingly adept at the five stages of problem-solving to provide the base for future learning, and to help students retain what they learn.
The following is just one of an infinite possible number of first-year curriculum configurations. The same structure of integration of substantive law and policy with professional skills and professionalism issues in a transactional setting can be extended to the rest of the curriculum, too.
- A contracts course focusing on transaction planning, document drafting, negotiation, and one or more ethical issues, such as taking a piece of a client's deal as part of the fee.
- A torts course focusing on social policy as a generator of development of the law, law and economics, interviewing, drafting a settlement agreement and release, and one or more ethical issues.
- A real property course focusing on legal history, drafting transaction documents, conducting a title search, and one or more ethical issues, such as confidentiality.
- A criminal law course focusing on jurisprudence (exploring the nature of law, justice, and the like), counseling, persuasive writing (a motion to quash seizure of evidence), and one or more ethical issues, such as the limits on the duty of zealous representation.
- A civil procedure course focusing on theories of dispute resolution (including ADR systems), drafting pleadings and motions, and one or more ethical issues, such as other aspects of limits on the duty of zealous representation.