by Judge Richard Poland,
At the Southern Association of Pre-Law Advisors Conference in New Orleans, Oct. 22-25, Judge Richard Poland was the panelist who represented the affirmative point of view on the issue of whether law should be studied at the undergraduate level. SAPLA is the regional association of pre-law advisors representing colleges and universities from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama. Judge Poland was also elected second Vice-President of SAPLA at this conference.
The following is a summary of Judge Poland's presentation:
Traditionally, the answer to this much debated question has been no. However, having examined that issue from the perspective of a pre-law undergraduate, a law school graduate, a 20-year practitioner and a pre-law advisor, I can assure you that traditional thinking is faulty.
Understanding that we all view life from our own igloo, let me share the parameters of mine. I teach at a small liberal arts institution with 1,700 students and a limited number of majors. The average class size is 22 students. I am liberal-arts educated and a strong advocate of the liberal arts tradition.
Let me first state that I do not support pre-law majors, whatever that concept implies. It is, in my opinion, very misleading to label any discipline or curriculum as "the pre-law major" of choice. Many disciplines in the liberal arts tradition prepare students for the study of law in the law schools of America. I do, nevertheless, strongly support the teaching of law courses using the Socratic case method at undergraduate institutions.
To my colleagues who suggest that we should leave the teaching of law to law schools, I ask the following: Why do we not leave the teaching of accounting, political science, history, economics and other disciplines to the graduate schools which offer doctoral degrees in those areas? Why do we not leave the teaching of science to the medical schools or to doctoral programs in the sciences?
Justice Louis D. Brandeis said, "The study of law should be introduced as part of a liberal education, to train and enrich the mind ...I am convinced that, like history, economics and metaphysics-and perhaps even to a greater degree than these-the law could be advantageously studied with a view to the general development of the mind."
What a novel concept. Teaching law for the general development of the mind. Does that not fit within the confines of what we are attempting to do as undergraduate professors? Law should be taught, in a limited manner, to enhance the liberal arts tradition.
The American Bar Association has advised us that we should encourage our pre-law students to take a broad-based curriculum as the best preparation for law school. We should demand that they take courses which will teach them to think critically and analytically, to write and speak with clarity and style, to read for a clear understanding of content and relationships, and to solve problems given specific factual situations. There are many courses within the liberal arts in which our students can learn these skills. Law courses taught by the Socratic case method should be included within that undergraduate curriculum.
The purpose for offering a few well-chosen law courses at the undergraduate level is, therefore, not to "teach the law" but to enhance the liberal arts training. To think, to speak, to write, to read and to solve problems are the reasons to offer law courses at the undergraduate level.
Are there additional benefits which will result to our pre-law students? Certainly. Even though it was more than a quarter century ago, I still remember the intellectual terror of my first few months in law school. What was this Socratic method all about? Why was I never given any answers? Why was everything I said wrong? Why were my law professors not as sympathetic and empathetic as my undergraduate professors? I had friends dropping out during the first few weeks. All of this was very unsettling. A law course, properly taught, can ease the transition during those first few months.
How many of us as pre-law advisors have had students say, "I wish someone had told me or shown me what law school was like." My students have an inkling. Law school does not terrorize them as it did me. They enter law school with a basic understanding of how the Socratic method works. Briefing and synthesizing cases are skills they have begun to develop. Flagler graduates look forward to the challenge of continuing their legal education.
First printed in the Flagler College Gargoyle, December 4, 1998, VOL. XXVI, No. 6.