International Conference Explores New Vision of Legal Education

By the time a student exits law school, he or she has been taught to think like a lawyer, says John Berry. But has he or she been taught to act like a lawyer?

Berry, the legal division director for the Florida Bar Association, speaking at a conference of legal educators in Atlanta hosted by the Georgia State Law in February, says something is missing in the profession.

“Though it would be nice to have more brilliant minds,” he says, “we need more caring hearts. That is absolutely the most essential change that we need to make in this profession.”

The International Conference on the Future of Legal Education, held from Feb. 20-23, 2008, brought together more than 150 legal educators and professionals from across the United States and 10 foreign nations. Discussion over the course of the conference centered around a critique of U.S. law instruction published last year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Georgia State Law’s Clark D. Cunningham, the W. Lee Burge Professor of Law & Ethics and the conference chair, says the foundation’s report “Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law” could have far-reaching impact on how law students are taught in the future. He likened it to a report on medical education by the foundation 100 years ago that drastically changed how doctors are trained.

“The Carnegie report is concerned about the fact that legal education can produce lawyers who lack basic skills,” Cunningham says during remarks at the opening of the conference. “But in my view, the report is much more concerned about the problem of producing lawyers who lack professional responsibility.”

The conference, which served as the keynote conference for the College of Law’s 25th anniversary year, brought together leaders from a number of leading law schools around the world to explore, in the context of the Carnegie report, how their methods may be applied at existing U.S. institutions, or in the creation of new law schools.

William Sullivan, the lead author of the Carnegie report, called for professionals, educational institutions and other stakeholders to consolidate their view of what it means to learn and practice the profession of law for the sake of preserving what it means to be a professional: a certain degree of discretionary judgment and relative autonomy.

“Professions perform a role in society that professionals, I think, are often not aware of. That is, they stand for the possibility of work—a kind of aspiration for other sorts of workers,” he says. “And this I think helps explain the persistence of the ideals of professional work as a model to which many aspire, though in fact the real debate is often today about the long-term viability of just that model.”

Conference web site with abstracts, papers and participant biographies

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