Let's Get Jurisprudential: The Study of Law

AuthorAllan C. Hutchinson
Now that you know how to get into law school, what will you be doing
when you get there? This is a straightforward question that invites a
straightforward answer. However, apart from the fact that you will be
attending classes, reading law books, and taking exams, there is little
else that can be said with any great confidence or certainty about your
time at law school. What amounts to legal education, let alone a good
legal education, is something that varies from school to school, from
class to class, and from professor to professor. The whole notion of
what it is that law schools should be doing and how they do it is a
matter of continuing debate and, at times, considerable antagonism.
Law schools are not only an intellectual arena within which legal edu-
cation takes place but also the site where the contest over what law
and legal education should be about is at its most fierce. Because of
this dual function, the best approach in introducing you to legal edu-
cation seems to be to incorporate the theoretical disagreements over
what amounts to a good legal education into the practical experience
of legal education itself.
let’s get jurisprudential
the study of law
/ 25
Seeing that the laws are excerpted out of the
middle of moral and natural philosophy, how
should these fools have understood it, that
have, by God, studied less in philosophy than
my mule. — rabelais
Accordingly, before acquainting you with some of the phenomena
and personalities you will encounter at law school and some of the
techniques and manoeuvres you will need to succeed, it is important
to get a handle on the larger historical and educational context with-
in which your likely day-to-day experience at law school has taken
shape and significance. In this way, you might better be able to make
sense of the expectations that are placed on you and to live up to these
expectations in a more effective manner. For some, this stuff will be
of interest in and of itself — fascinating challenge that naturally
whets their intellectual appetite; for others, it will seem an unneces-
sary diversion that strays from their central reason for being at law
school. To the latter group, I can only say that you should be prepared
to take this material seriously, even from the position of your own
focused agenda. Let’s face it, an awareness of the theoretical and edu-
cational context of your legal education can hardly hinder your suc-
cess in that legal education — you study better if you know what it is
and why you are being asked to study in the way you are.
So, let’s start at that most trite and challenging of questions: If
you are to study law, what is it you are studying? What is law? After
trying to make some sense of that inquiry, I will explore the tension
that has energized law schools in their efforts to develop an appropri-
ate curriculum and modus operandi: Is law school about training lawyers
or educating people about law? Finally, as a result of the inconclusive-
ness of the debate around these two burning issues, I will canvass
some of the major intellectual perspectives that inform and guide the
teaching of law in law schools today: How do we and how should we
think about law and its study?
a brief tour of jurisprudence
Countless generations of jurists have expended vast intellectual ener-
gies in seeking to answer the question: What is law? The question is
exquisitely deceptive in its brevity and simplicity because the difficulties
it raises and the answers it invites tend to be extremely prolix and com-
plex. The elusive nature of the project can be gauged by the plethora of
solutions that have been proposed. The traditional approach has been
26 / the law school book

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