The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is finalizing a report entitled Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law. The full report will be available in March 2007, but there is a very useful 16 page summary of the report available right now for free. It can be accessed here. Thanks to my colleague Jeff Jackson for bringing the report to my attention.
Previous posts and comments on Law Career Blog pertain to the strengths and shortcomings of American legal education. (See, e.g., Is the Third Year of Law School a Waste of Time and Money? and Is Law School Itself a Waste of Time?) The summary and pending full Carnegie report address this topic too, and the summary makes for very interesting reading. One thematic commonality that runs through it is that "[t]he dramatic results of the first year of law school's emphasis on well-honed skills of legal analysis should be matched by similarly strong skill in serving clients and a solid ethical grounding."
In other words, this study concluded that the first year of law school provides a solid doctrinal underpinning for students, who learn legal analysis--how to "think like a lawyer." This educational experience needs to be matched, however, by similar efforts in the second and third year to educate students not only about doctrine, but also about legal practice. By so doing, law schools could teach students more and prepare them better for the practice of law.
I've posted on the question of whether the third (and even second) year of law school is a waste of time (see the above links; my answer = no), and there has been some excellent commentary from readers on the subject. The Carnegie report suggests, and I tend to agree, that the problem is not that law school is not beneficial or should be shortened, but rather that upper level courses should focus on developing skills that complement the doctrinally-focused skills of the 1L curriculum.
This conclusion and recommendation speaks directly to the common practitioner complaint that new law school grads don't know anything about practicing law. I often think such complainers mean that law school's focus on doctrine is wrong--too much theory, too little skills training--but the Carnegie report does a nice job of emphasizing that you need both.
I encourage anyone interested in the subject to read the Carnegie report summary and post any comments you might have here.