Too Yale to Fail?
You’ve probably heard the criticisms of Yale Law. They’re a theoretical school trapped in the 19th century, out of touch and irrelevant. Their students don’t learn how to practice law. They’re the academic equivalent of a football factory for clerkships and public sector posts.
‘Yale doesn’t teach students how to be lawyers,’ critics say. ‘It teaches them how to be law professors.’
Chalk some of that vitriol up to envy. Let’s face it: Yale Law has been the measuring stick for other schools to evaluate themselves. And yes, a high number of law school deans and professors call Yale their alma mater. But is Yale really just some stodgy law culture steeped in arcane legalese and enlightenment philosophy? Can their students tell the difference between a brief and a belief?
This week, Lavinia Borzi of the Yale Daily News tamps out the stereotypes, outlining exactly how Yale Law offers a truly practical curriculum.
First, Borzi admits the obvious in her reporting: Yale Law has some advantages that few other schools enjoy. For starters, Yale’s reputation buffers them from economic turmoil like the financial crisis. For example, professor Peter Schuck argues that Yale Law grads often get first dibs on government and nonprofit opportunities, while grads from lower ranked schools must hustle for internships and jobs in an increasingly-competitive jobs market.
In fact, Kelly Voight, who heads Yale Law’s Career Development Office, notes that employers often work to sell themselves to students, not vice versa. As a result, Yale’s academically-driven culture is still highly appealing to employers. So why reinvent the wheel?
Graham White, a 1L jokes that a stereotypical line is that ‘Harvard teaches students how the law works and Yale teaches how it should be.’ Kidding aside, the opposite is true: 80 percent of students complete one or more clinics before they graduate. Deborah François, a 3L, even equates the clinics she took to a medical school residency.
Yale Law has also pushed to deeply integrate an academic framework within the law clinics. Professor Oona Hathaway argues that the academic rigor better informs this practical bent: “We not only offer the most serious, hands-on clinical program in the country, but the sometimes maligned ‘Yale method’ of focusing on understanding the underlying principles at stake is actually the best way to train great practicing lawyers.”
While Yale Law offers many clinics where students represent clients, Raphael Graybill, a 2L, points out that students must keep an open mind to what constitutes experiential learning. “Not all clinical work resembles typical law practice,” he says. “Law students have a tremendous opportunity through clinical work to try a wide range of different kinds of law. That is a luxury practicing attorneys typically don’t have.”
Still, don’t expect Yale Law to adjust to the masses. As one unnamed student observed, “Yale Law School will do what it wants.” And that’s not by arrogance or accident. Yale Law follows a “fundamentally different orientation,” argues ‘86 grad William Treanor, who is currently dean of the Georgetown University Law Center. Rather than focusing on practicality, Treanor contends Yale Law focuses on a larger picture: Understanding the law itself.
Still, Yale Law professors and administrators believe the school offers a balance that provides the best of both worlds to students. As Dean Robert Post observes, “Yale Law School is a uniquely vital and intense community, which rejects any rigid distinction between theory and practice because it believes that each must inform the other.”
Source: Yale Daily News