Memoir and Legal Education


The Course. Legal education is by most accounts a memorable experience--for all its promise and ill effects--and sets one upon a new life, or, an old life thoroughly refitted. You might think of your legal education as setting you off upon a journey and a new story. You set off from an old familiar world, undergo the law school rites of passage, and then you call yourself a lawyer.

In "Memoir and Legal Education" we will focus on this journey: where you came from, what you found when you arrived at law school, and how you have managed to survive the experience. We'll try to see if we can map out law school's hidden curriculum, an implicit curriculum that basically leaves you on your own to figure out how the story you bring with you to law school is to be incorporated into your identity as a lawyer. It's the law school swim and the undercurrent of the implicit curriculum that leaves you, on your own, to find meaning in law school rituals and rites of passage.

In "Memoir and Legal Education," we will try to unravel law school's implicit curriculum, the substrata of legal education where the outlines of your professional socialization takes place, to see how the subtle and often unnamed transformative changes of outlook and habits of mind take hold and are resisted. We'll try to figure out how law school can be told as a story.

The underlying purpose of the course is to promote the skill of reflection and to focus, by way of writing, on this fundamental question: What does it mean to become a lawyer? Lawyers are constructors and shapers of meaning both in their own lives and for the lives of their clients. Introspection and reflection are vital skills for professionals who traffic in the affairs of others. Yet, in the great rush of everyday life, we often let our meaning questions, and the skills and sensibilities we have in addressing them, get pushed to the margins.

Course Reading. We will read two law student memoirs, Scott Turow's One L and Martha Kimes's Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student. Additional readings will be drawn from memoir writings of students at West Virginia University. West Virginia law student published work includes:

Ruth P. Knight, Remembering, 40 J. Legal Educ. 97 (1990) [on-line text]

Deirdre Purdy, Lawyers & Literature as My Mother Lay Dying–Spring, 1997, 22 Legal Stud. F. 293 (1998) [on-line text]

Brenda Waugh, A Theory of Employment Discrimination, 40 J. Legal Educ. 113 (1990) [on-line text]

Worlds of Silence: Women in Law School, 8 ALSA F. 1-124 (1984) [preface][Getting Here][Law School][Power][Conflict][Masculine Images][Writing the Stories][Cinderella][Postscript]

Book-length legal education memoir writings include: Lawrence Dieker, Jr., Letters from Law School: The Life of a Second-Year Law Student (Writers Club Press, 2000); Chris Goodrich, Anarchy and Elegance: Confessions of a Journalist at Yale Law School (Little, Brown and Company, 1991); Richard D. Kahlenberg, Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School (Faber and Faber, 1992); Alfredo Mirande, The Stanford Law Chronicles: Doin' Time on the Farm (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

On the transformative effects of education, we will read Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory.

You will be introduced to the genre of personal essay/memoir/creative non-fiction writings and to on-going efforts to describe what is "new" in the genre.

Course Writing and Evaluation. For your writing for the course, you will have two options. If you pursue Option A you will write a memoir focusing on the path that brought you to law school and the transformative (or non-transformative) experiences you've had as a student of law. You may, with the permission of the instructor, elect to write about some other significant part of your life. For those who find Option A uninviting, you may elect to write a traditional research paper on the role of legal education in the professional socialization of lawyers.

All students in the course will be asked to write throughout the semester.

On Legal Education. Modern day legal education purports to be skills-based and to teach you The Law (or some significant part of it). But there is a set of skills of vital use to lawyers that we do not foster: self-awareness, introspection, reflection. Yet, we want lawyers to be "reflective practitioners." (The "reflective practitioner" is a term associated with the work of Donald Schon and his book, The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think in Action (Basic Books, 1983). The term "reflective practitioner" has gained some attention in clinical teaching circles.) If we want lawyers to "think in action" we might start with the simple notion that the "thinking" we do as lawyers is not done by way of a lock-box compartment of the mind, but a mind that is part and parcel of the person we happen to be.

By design or inattentive omission, we do not in legal education, offer students an opportunity to reflect on what you bring with you to the study of law, how the person you are when you arrive at law school may be subjected to change under pressure, and that it is the deep structure and implicit curriculum that you must mine for "messages" about what it means to be a lawyer. In legal education we do not ask you to reflect on the kind of training you receive (and how that training is presented to you), and we don't have much to say about what kind education you might need beyond the training we provide you.