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Bar News - June 20, 2008


SC Justice Dalianis: Making Law School Relevant

On May 17, 2008, NH Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Linda Dalianis gave the commencement address at the 2008 Franklin Pierce Law School graduation. Because of space limitations, Bar News is presenting only excerpts here, but the speech in its entirety may be found at http://www.nhbar.org/publications/DalianisSpeech.asp.

"I imagine that most commencement speakers talk about what life will be like beyond law school, something about which I am sure you are all wondering right now.

I can assure all your parents and friends in the audience that you have learned to think like a lawyer—you know how to apply the relevant law to the facts you face. But, I can also say that, because your experience with legal education has been here at Pierce Law, where the day-to-day practice of law and the relationship between lawyer and client is as highly prized as scholarship in doctrine and theory, you will find yourself not just thinking like a lawyer, but acting like one. Pierce Law has offered you a look at "client-centered training" and that is the path that evolving legal education is following today, across the country.

Today, Pierce Law adds another element to its long and impressive commitment to practical legal training. This group of graduates includes the first class of Daniel Webster Scholars, 13 men and women who were selected to participate in a rigorous new program that focuses upon developing their skills as practicing lawyers.

This kind of practical training was not a part of my legal education. When I was a law student at Suffolk University in the early 1970s—and there were negligible numbers of women in law school in those days—there was next to nothing available by way of so-called clinical education for aspiring lawyers.

My legal education was the norm. The famed Socratic method held sway…. Anything less "purely" academic than the casebook method of substantive legal education—to name one amazing example, legal writing and research—was given short shrift by law schools.

Fortunately, in spite of my utter cluelessness about what it meant to practice law, I was able to get a decent job with a good law firm, Hamblett & Kerrigan in Nashua, which had 12 lawyers at the time. Like most firms 35 years ago, the members of the firm were eager to hire their "first woman lawyer." And because it was a medium-sized firm for the day, the lawyers there were also willing and able to offer the rough equivalent of an apprenticeship to new lawyers….

In 1980, before some of you were born, I was appointed to the Superior Court and promptly forgot about legal education and the development of legal skills, as I was too busy trying to learn the whole new vernacular and practice that comes with being a trial judge.

But as my years on the trial court passed by, I began to be troubled by an obvious lack of skill and preparation in many lawyers who appeared in court. It was on display virtually every day. Young lawyers did not know how to address the court, or make an offer of proof or draft a coherent pleading.

I, like so many other lawyers and judges, began to ask whether the changing nature of the legal profession, and the new expectation that young lawyers would start producing right off the bat, meant that law schools needed to take a hard look at their traditional curricula and start thinking about practice as well as academics.

A real turning point, as I see it, came in 1992, when a task force assembled by the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar took a hard look at what law schools teach and what law firms expect new lawyers to accomplish. Their work, which became known as the MacCrate report, neatly described the tension between legal educators and practicing lawyers:

The MacCrate report focused upon "narrowing the gap" between the law schools and the practicing bar. In doing so, it identified the "skills and values" that every lawyer should acquire before taking on the responsibility of a client. In effect, these skills and values would be the "goals" of a law school education.

This is a self-evaluation process that never ends. I can attest to that.

I urge all 171 of you in the Class of 2008, the 120 new juris doctors, the Webster Scholars and the graduate students in intellectual property and international criminal law, as well as the rest of us—practitioners and academics—to take the MacCrate skills and values to heart today.

The way I see it, the legal education world, from Harvard on out across the country, has simply come around to the view that Pierce Law has held for much longer than the 15 years that I have been working with the dean and faculty to improve lawyer education—that is, we have to make legal education relevant to today’s world, steep it in the MacCrate skills and values and give law students the tools with which they can practice their profession confidently right from the start. My dream is that someday we will be able to expand the Webster Scholar program to include any student of the law school who wishes to participate, and I have good reason to hope that my dream will come true.

So, here you are, graduates of this unique law school, which has had its eye on the future of lawyering since well before many of the so-called elite institutions began to move in that direction.

Graduates, no matter where you head out for today, all of you can be proud of your affiliation with this legal education. Congratulations.

Some time ago, someone gave me a poetic piece about being a lawyer, which I have found inspirational. It was written many years ago by Louis Lande, a member of the New York Bar. Let me paraphrase some of his words:

I am the lawyer. I displaced brute force with mercy, justice and equity.
I taught humankind to respect the rights of others to their property, to their
personal liberty, to freedom of conscience, to free speech and free assembly.
I am the spokesperson of righteous causes. I plead for the poor and the persecuted.
I maintain honor in the market place. I am the champion of unpopular causes.
I am the foe of tyranny, oppression and bureaucracy. I wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Rights of Man and the Emancipation Proclamation.
I fought in every war for liberty. I seek the equality of humankind, regardless of race, color, sex or religion. I am the leader in every crisis. I am the scapegoat of the world. But, I am the pioneer. I am the just judge and the righteous ruler. I hear before I decide. I seek the best in everyone. I am the lawyer.

Thank you for the privilege of addressing you on your very special day."

NHLAP: A confidential Independent Resource

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