Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » Careers in Criminal Justice: Law - Legal Education, The Prosecuting Attorney, Criminal Defense, Bibliography

Careers in Criminal Justice: Law - Legal Education

students clinics schools school

In the past, most individuals starting out as criminal defense attorneys or prosecutors had minimal background in criminal law. In fact, even today, most law schools only require one basic criminal law class although there are opportunities to take additional courses in advanced criminal law and criminal procedure. However, the contemporary law student's exposure to the practical side of criminal law has been enhanced by the development of legal clinics and skills courses. The history of legal education presents an interesting pattern from practical training in its inception, to a more doctrinal and analytical approach, and currently back to an emphasis on practical training in conjunction with traditional theoretical methods.

During the colonial era, Americans who wished to become lawyers obtained a legal education at one of the British Inns of Court. However, those who could not afford a trip to England were trained in an apprenticeship system whereby aspiring lawyers worked under the tutelage of a practicing lawyer. During the American Revolution and thereafter, the apprentice system became more widespread. During these apprenticeships, students would learn the practical skills of a lawyer by doing legal work for the mentor who would also advise and suggest readings in substantive law. However, given the differences in various mentors' styles and skill in teaching as well as the competing demands of the mentor's practice, satisfaction with the apprentice system dwindled. Proprietary law schools then began to emerge. These were private schools that were headed by some of the more skilled and popular mentors. Instruction was conducted on a group basis and students received formal lectures on the law, thereby systematizing legal education for the first time.

Eventually, university-affiliated law schools began to emerge. Harvard Law School was established in 1817, and in 1870 the school fostered a revolution in legal teaching when Christopher Columbus Langdell became its dean. Langdell developed the case method of legal instruction, which was based on the assumption that law was a science and that the most appropriate way to teach this science was through the study of appellate cases. The method for teaching these cases has been called the "Socratic Method"; students were called upon to state the facts of the case, and what the court decided, and to analyze the court's reasoning and abstract the legal principles. The professor would then test the student's understanding by posing a series of hypotheticals and asking the student to apply the reasoning of the case to the new fact patterns. While this method remains a popular teaching method in law schools today, it has been criticized for failing to adequately prepare students for the practice of law. It has been further criticized for being unnecessarily confrontational and unsuitable to the increasingly diverse law school population. Many contemporary law professors have modified the Socratic method or used it in conjunction with other teaching methods.

As early as the 1930s, legal realists argued that law should be taught in terms of how it operated in the real world. However, clinical programs did not gain popularity in law schools until the 1960s, when there was increased funding for provision of services to low-income citizens as well as a growing sense that law schools were failing to adequately prepare students for the practice of law. Today, almost every law school in the country has one or more clinical offerings. There are two types of clinics operating in law schools: in-house clinics and externship placement clinics. In-house clinics are generally small legal offices in law schools that represent low-income clients in a variety of cases. Students take on actual cases under the supervision of a faculty member. In externship clinics, students receive course credit for participating in certain lawyering activities away from the law school in a field placement. In those cases, students are supervised and trained by a supervisor who is generally a practicing attorney at the organization in which the student is placed. There are criminal defense clinics and prosecution clinics in both formats. Alongside the development of legal clinics has been an increase in skills-based courses that teach students such things as interviewing, counseling, negotiation, and pretrial and trial practice through simulation, role playing, mock court hearings, and skills exercises. More and more students interested in careers in criminal law take in-house clinics, externships, or skills courses during their three years in law school, and are thus perhaps more prepared for work as criminal lawyers than their predecessors.

Careers in Criminal Justice: Law - The Prosecuting Attorney [next]

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or