Rethinking IP Education cont'd

Posted by Douglas Sorocco at April 28, 2005 06:15 PM

Steve Veenema made an interesting comment in the Rethinking Legal Education and IP post that I want to highlight and comment on:

Speaking as someone who is currently preparing for a Property exam (at Suffolk Law School in Boston), but spends his days working in the real world with copyright and intellectual property issues, I can definitely see value in making IP a requirement, and in integrating it more into the first-year Property class. However, I don't know that it makes sense to view every aspect of your legal education that is not eventually utilized in practice as a worthless waste of a semester (or two). From where I'm sitting, the beginnings of law school are about developing an intellectual framework for understanding the fundamental legal relationships that have developed over time. Losing an understanding of the distinctions between contracts, trusts, agency, bailment, etc... is to lose some of the basis for our system of law. While I agree that few of us may apply that knowledge in any professional capacity, I don't think that the opportunity for professional application should be the determining factor for what is taught in law school.

I agree, Steve.

Law school should be the starting point of the lifelong pursuit of how to “think and act like a lawyer” – the application of rigorous analysis, insight and a good dose of common sense.  A common vocabulary and understanding is necessary to be able to move on to the more judgment and insight related aspects of our profession – but we also need to be providing students with the information necessary to develop the common sense portion of the equation. 

As an adjunct professor my perspective on the teaching of law is a bit different — I don’t see law students being trained in a manner that provides them with the tools to start developing and exercising insight –  not to even mention judgment.  Most law schools are merely fulfilling the need of big firms – producing robots that are programmed to churn and burn billable hours. 

Inductive reasoning is not taught – rote memorisation and “case worship” usually carry the day. 

For example, throw a non-science background person into a patent class and the dynamic instantly changes.  The science folks learn the need to simplify issues so that the non-science folks can understand while the non-science students gain an appreciation of how complex legal issues become when applied to scientific endeavors. 

Each group of people learn from one another more than they will ever learn from the professor.  I would bet, however, that most law schools segregate out the patent class and don’t encourage non-science folks to take the class.

Another disturbing trend I see is that of law schools decreasing the number of semesters required for a degree — I would argue the opposite should be occurring.    Ideally, law school should be a 4–5 year experience with required internship semester between semesters of coursework. 

Every law student should be required to work with clients much the same way that doctors should be required to work with actual living patients.   In such a framework, classes on intellectual property could be required and not compete for time with the “staid bastions of legal education”.   Without the practical experience – it is all just book learning, nothing more and nothing less. 

But why should IP law just be taught in law school?  If it is truly touching all aspects of our economy and daily lives – why not make it a requirement for an MBA or even all undergraduate degrees.  Maybe instead of teaching Bar Association CLE classes, IP lawyers should be teaching classes at the local colleges, trade schools and VO-Techs.  Maybe even at the high schools?

Just some more thoughts on the issue…. What do you think? Keep the comments coming.

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