Monday, October 29, 2012

Justice Scalia's advice to law students: just say no to frills.

The Caspar, Wyoming Star Tribune has a report about a speech that Justice Scalia gave to students at the University of Wyoming law school.  The article mentions the advice Justice Scalia gave the students about what courses they should take.
Specifically, Just Scalia said that they should take "bread and butter courses. Do not take, `law and women,' do not take `law and poverty,' do not take `law and anything." 

Is this good advice?  I suppose it depends on what he means by "bread and butter courses."  To the extent that Justice Scalia is talking about taking classes that cover areas of law covered by the bar exam, I think the advice is misplaced.  The various companies that offer bar review courses will teach one the basic areas of the law covered by the bar exam.    

My advice, which if nothing else comes from someone who has actually attended law school in the 21st Century, is that law student should take classes that they think might interest them.  Law school is probably the last time most people will be in school.  So, they should take topics that seem like interesting areas to study.  If that means taking tax classes, then take tax classes.  If it means taking law and poverty, then take law and poverty.  Also, try to take a clinic or some other practical  skills class so that you can get a sense of what being a lawyer is actually like.  

Law school is stressful enough that one should not compound the stress by taking a class in which one has no interest.  If that means not taking one of the bread and butter classes, so be it.

What about you, Mr. Torvik?  Do you think law students follow Justice Scalia's advice about what classes they should take.


  1. I think both you and Justice Scalia give good advice. I agree with you that law students should generally take courses that might interest them. But I also agree with Scalia that they should err on the side of taking "core" courses and avoid overly theoretical ones. I don't think the point of taking core courses is to pass the bar exam. As you say, a bar prep course will take care of that. But very few law students will accurately predict what kind of law they are actually going to practice. So I think law students should get a broad base of legal knowledge. Just my two cents.

  2. Yeah I can't say that academic law courses, "bread and butter" or otherwise, really matter very much after the first year. I can think of a couple I kind of wish I'd taken (conflict of laws, remedies), one I wish I'd focused on more (federal courts), and one I wish my prof had taught more earnestly (civil procedure); but basically I think that after the first year core curriculum the other two years are largely a waste of time and you might as well learn interesting things and enjoy them. And whatever academic information you miss, you can just learn later when you need it. It's not really all that hard to read a book and learn legal concepts. All of the "real" career-relevant learning, the actual hard stuff, comes from actually doing work. Or from living life outside of work, which also adds a huge amount of value to the lawyer skillset. Of course my perspective is that of a courtroom trial lawyer, which is probably one of the specialties that law school is least relevant toward.

    I will say that additional legal writing courses after the first year would probably be good.


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