Experience is the Only Teacher: Meeting the Challenge of the Carnegie Foundation Report

David F. Chavkin, American University Washington College of Law


For nearly 150 years, American legal education was dominated by one model - large classes taught by the Socratic method. That model worked well financially for American law schools but was never demonstrated to effectively prepare students for their legal careers.

The Langdell model resisted reform effort after reform effort - starting with the legal realism movement and ending with the critical legal studies movement. However, beginning in the 1970's in the United States, the clinical movement and reform efforts in the organized bar began to remake the face of American legal education.

The Carnegie Foundation recently published an indictment of American legal education that may further the reform efforts undertaken by clinical teachers and their supporters in the legal profession. The Carnegie Foundation Report, Educating Lawyers, identified three apprenticeships that legal education should serve - a doctrinal apprenticeship, a practical apprenticeship, and a formative apprenticeship. Only the first of these three apprenticeships, the Carnegie Foundation found, was being furthered by the case-dialogue or Socratic method.

This paper considers the challenge presented by the Carnegie Foundation Report and proposes a model of combining theory and practice that addresses the concerns expressed in the Report. It proposes a model of teaching professional responsibility that combines each of the three apprenticeships. It also addresses the criticisms expressed by the Carnegie Foundation regarding assessment in legal education by proposing a model that provides extensive feedback and assessment in each of the three apprenticeship areas.