For the Record: Dean's Message

Carnegie Study: Do Law Schools Help Shape Students' Hearts and Minds?

It is both comforting and inspiring when a nationally recognized external group validates our mission and vision. Early last year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching did just that when it published a study on legal education, “Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law.” The study’s purpose was to assess how legal education is conducted in the United States and to recommend needed changes.

Overall, the Carnegie Foundation’s report card for American legal education is a mixed one. “Educating Lawyers” heaps praise, as it should, on law schools for their success in developing mong students the analytical thinking so essential to the practice of law. Law schools justifiably receive an A on teaching law students, in effect to, “think like lawyers.”

On a second issue, the Carnegie study is more muted. The study congratulates law schools for the significant steps they have taken over the past 20 years to teach lawyering skills through legal research and writing, legal clinics and externships, and simulation courses on negotiation, transactional drafting, trial advocacy and client counseling. “Educating Lawyers,” however, takes American legal education to task for failing to integrate the development of lawyering skills in a pervasive way – in core courses such as contracts, criminal law and civil procedure, as well as in the free-standing lawyering skills courses, which most law schools offer in good number.

On a third issue, however, the Carnegie study has little praise. “Educating Lawyers” sharply criticizes American law schools for failing to address the formative side of education – the development among law students of a refined moral compass and of the highest values of professionalism, including the ideals of servant leadership. The Carnegie study bemoans, “Much of law schools’ pedagogical activity presumes that issues of professionalism are somehow, somewhere, being handled.” Yet, the study notes, we all know that “law schools shape the minds and hearts of their graduates in enduring ways.”

The question Carnegie asks is whether most law schools are helping to shape students' “hearts and minds” in a deliberate and positive way. Carnegie’s study discovered, unfortunately, that at most law schools the answer is “no.” In interviewing law faculty at several schools, the Carnegie study found a “surprisingly prevalent” perspective among law school deans and faculty that “it is indoctrination even to ask students to articulate their own normative positions.” One faculty member commented, “I bristle when people from the profession tell us we have to teach [law students] to be ethical.”

At St. Thomas, my colleagues and I understand that we are still a work in progress – that there is much we still can do to improve the excellence of the education we provide to our students. We are heartened by the Carnegie Foundation’s clarion call to American law schools to focus on students’ ethical formation. At its core, our School of Law’s mission is about formation, and our goals are to assist students to continue along their individual journeys. We believe that, as children of God, we are each called to lead by serving – by serving our clients with competence and compassion and by serving our communities, especially those who are most in need of our care.

I am proud that the Carnegie study confirms what we at St. Thomas already have surmised. Our School of Law is substantially ahead of the pack in encouraging students to draw on themselves, their faith and their values, in developing their professional identity.

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