Carnegie Foundation Report

I found out about this title from a request by the Dean’s research assistant who asked a reference librarian if we had it in the law library print collection:

Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (2007)

The url also gives links to the table-of-contents and the summary of the reports reccomendations and findings.

There is some interesting matter in the report, but surprisingly not much specifcally on technology and new ways of learning and transmitting knowledge.


  1. Contrarian time / rant on:

    If the rest of the report follows the tenor of the 1st of 5 so called “key observations” in the summary of the report at,

    then this is yet another misguided attempt to perpetuate the myth that acquiring the ability “to think like a lawyer” is somehow a process of advanced intellectual accomplishment.

    I’ll concede that it’s probably more difficult than counting to 10 in winter while wearing mittens, but then that’s why we have gloves with separate fingers.

    I’ll quote the first of the key observations: “Law schools are impressive educational institutions. In a relatively short period of time, they are able to impart a distinctive habit of thinking that forms the basis for their students’ development as legal professionals. Visiting schools of different types and geographical locations, the research team found unmistakable evidence of the pedagogical power of the first phase of legal education. Within months of their arrival in law school, students demonstrate new capacities for understanding legal processes, for seeing both sides of legal arguments, for sifting through facts and precedents in search of the more plausible account, for using precise language, and for understanding the applications and conf licts of legal rules. Despite a wide variety of social backgrounds and undergraduate experiences, they are learning, in the parlance of legal education, to think like a lawyer. This is an accomplishment of the first order that deserves serious consideration from educators of aspirants to other professional fields.”

    Teaching these lawyer ‘wannabes’ how to think is an accomplishment of the first order? Just how dumb were the subjects of this study?

    The truth is that anybody who can’t “think like a lawyer” by the time he or she deserves to graduate from high school, let alone university – shouldn’t have been let into law school in the first place; or any other school for that matter. Whether he or she should have been permitted to graduate from high school or university, unless the school has an upper age limit, is a separate question.

    Unless, of course, one is prepared to concede that law isn’t logical at all, or that law is no different in the way it process information than religion; in which case learning how to “think like a lawyer” is learning how to believe in pink rabbits because the law defines a flying elephant as pink rabbitt as everybody knows elephants can’t fly (see, legal fiction). And, learning how not think logically because that’s what the rules of the system require.

    We have, as some here know, good authority that logic is not necessarily central to the life of law. For those who don’t, I offer the classic statement in Quinn v. Leathem , [1901] A.C. 495 at 506 by Lord Halsbury: “I entirely deny that it [a case] can be quoted for a proposition that may seem to follow logically from it. Such a mode of reasoning assumes that the law is necessarily a logical code, whereas every lawyer must acknowledge that the law is not always logical at all.”

    But, then, something which functions in a manner analogous to a western religion can’t always be logical, can it?

    Rant off – I feel better now, too.

  2. I was hoping some of the “key observations” in the Carnegie Report would get some strong reactions, David, so thanks for the comment. Much of the report is seems very smug, indeed, as you point out.

    My essential guide to understanding legal education is Glanville Williams, “Learning the Law” (Sweet & Maxwell), now in its 13th edition. It is very practical about the process. It includes an excellent short bibliography on general legal reading, including a section on “Jurisprudence, logic, philosophy, and ecomonics” in which the author/editor states that “from time to time judges . . . tell us that logic is not compulsive in legal reasoning. In this they merely betray a lack of understanding of what logic is.” He then refers to an excellent little book by Robert H. Thouless, “Straight and Crooked Thinking”, now out-of-print, but worth looking at if you can get a copy.

  3. Neil,

    One question the writers of “legal eduction” studies might ask – perhaps they have, I’ve never bothered to look – is “what does it tell us about law as a discipline that so many people who claim they’re no good at math, sciences, philosophy, logic etc. (and whose transcripts show it), manage to get into law school and then do reasonably well”?

    It seems to me that there are at least two answers, which may overlap somewhat.

    One is that most law professors are very able at teaching the casuistic (in its original, not pejorative, meaning) process which is legal analysis (and many other types of logical analysis) which process, for whatever reason, the students’ undergraduate professors weren’t able to adequately explain. If so, the the Carnegie Report is right. “This is an accomplishment of the first order that deserves serious consideration from educators of aspirants to other professional fields.”

    The other answer is that law is just easier than whatever it was these students couldn’t handle. (So much for the myth of the learned profession.) I suppose it is, if one can go to court and get away with this stuff like this:

    Skip to paragraph 42 of the reasons, then glance back up through the case.