The Law School Curriculum: The Process of Reform

John C. Weistart
1987 Duke law journal  
There is an appearance of great ferment in discussions of the American law school and its curriculum. Proposals for reform abound. Some of these criticize the general structure-or lack of structure-in the traditional curriculum. Others suggest that the law school curriculum is deficient for its failure to provide instruction in a particular subject matter or skill. Economics, other social sciences, lawyering, mediation, and other litigation avoidance devices are among the new perspectives
more » ... perspectives frequently urged. Only a few of the proposals put forth to date are merely fanciful. Most can be justified either by a desire to foster a better understanding of the legal system or to contribute to its better functioning. In a legal education world of no restraints, there would be little reason to reject the proposals being put forth. Curriculum planning, however, takes place in a world of restraints and costs. Despite the obviousness of this point, it has received little attention in the present discussion. Indeed, there has been a surprisingly limited effort to assess the present climate for reform. It is not uncommon for a new idea to be put forth and pronounced "better" with virtually no serious attention being given to the factors that define its likely reception. When explanations are attempted for why a particular new idea has not been embraced, common, somewhat conclusory themes emerge. Not infrequently, these take the form of pejorative appraisals of the impact of the considerable autonomy that individual faculty members enjoy. Faculties are seen as tradition-bound and unreceptive to new ideas. There is, though, a good deal more that needs to be said about the process of curriculum change in law schools. Complaints of traditionalism and excessive claims of prerogative by faculty provide very imperfect, if not incorrect, explanations. A variety of concerns need to be examined in order to provide a more complete picture of the process that will determine the outcome of the present debate. * Professor of Law, Duke University. Theresa A. Newman Glover provided superior assistance in the background research for this piece, an effort which became something of "A Walking Tour of Famous Graveyards." 1. For writings that provide a broader historical perspective on the development of legal education, see A.
doi:10.2307/1372607 fatcat:opwbkm5r3jh2becbmycpsxtv44