Thursday, May 20, 2004

Should law schools teach more "people skills"?

It is rich indeed for David Weisbrot to now be repeating this cry, ten years after he first (AFAIK) called for less poring over books, and more teaching of customer service skills (f.n. 5), as the newly appointed Dean of Law at Sydney University.

"Rich", of course, because a decade should have been more than enough time for Professor Weisbrot to have implemented his call-centre managerialist approach to legal education. If I'm wrong here - the new Dean, who recently taken over from Professor Weisbrot, doesn't even remotely allude to such an approach in his website "Welcome" blurb - then I apologise to Weisbrot for not having recognised the speed with which legal formalism's counter-revolutionaries could have undone the people skills-first curricular achievements of the good Professor.

But here I jest, for the most part. I've actually got no great problem with law schools turning out factory fodder, in the narrowly vocational sense. The customers (well, the students, anyway) would have a bit of a problem though, I suspect.

On the other hand, if your typical law student (or graduate any time since the late 80s) did study under the belief that they were destined for a life's work of rigorous intellectual application, then they were sadly mistaken. (And I - who graduated from a top Australian law school, with honours, in 1990 - freely admit that I was one of these deludees at the time.)

For this reason, far from intending sarcasm at Professor Weisbrot's hitherto little-heeded cries for the reform of legal education, I propose: enough talk - Do it now, and do it on the double!

Thus, I make a concrete suggestion along such lines. No place is better at teaching customer service skills (and these skills are utterly generic, according to any up-to-date management textbook) than your local multinational fast-food restaurant. Hence, why not have compulsory first-year internships at such restaurants, for all first-year law students? Given that law is a profession, and a seriously regarded one at that, I would suggest a minimum one year period for such internships (anything less and they'd look a bit TAFE-y, which is plainly not a good thing). Oh, and for their part, the said fast-food restaurants would be rapt - uni interns (under the Australian system) work for zero pay.

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