A profession is a vocation founded on specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others (1).
Today in North America a person can become a legal professional by graduating from an accredited law school.
What kind of educational training should be offered at a law school?
I submit that law students must become familiar with basic legal concepts by taking courses such as contracts, criminal law, constitutional law, property, torts, statutes, administrative law, evidence, practice, professional conduct, wills and trusts, company law, labour law, legal research, etc.
Legal encyclopedia list over 150 legal subjects. Note that courses offered at any law school are unlikely to cover all courses of possible study.
Most North American law schools use the case method – the reading of existing case law – to discuss and promote the identification and study of legal issues. The identification and thinking about legal issues is a skill that should be developed at a law school. Issue solving is a skill that can be used after law school when a lawyer meets the new problems created by the ever changing world.
Only after the identification of an issue can one attempt to solve the issue. While discussing an issue and the existing law, law students I submit should be asked what, in their opinion, the law ought to be.
The examinations at my law school were composed of novel fact situations and related questions arising out of such facts. The questions required the identification of legal issues and possible solutions. The exams were open book exams, meaning a student could bring into the exam any notes or books pertaining to the subject matter of the exam. Most students realized that the solutions to old issues were of limited value in thinking about solutions to novel problems.
After law school, lawyers encounter many new legal issues other than those discussed during legal training. Each year legislatures enact many new statutes that result in new issues to be solved. Regulations and municipal bylaws are regularly enacted. Also the appeal courts each year decide many cases that involve new issues.
Problem solving is not unique to the legal profession. For example, other professions such as engineers and physicians are trained at university in problem solving.
Should a law school attempt to train students for a particular kind of legal work? Some large law firms prefer that law schools train students in the kind of work currently being done for their clients. Such training is of doubtful utility in the long run because the nature of legal work, like the world, is always changing.
Rather than training for work in a legal area of practice, the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills may be of more utility during a long legal career.
1. see article by Sidney Webb in the New Statesman, April 21, 1917.