Law School: Substance or Skills

 Posted on October 23, 2007 in Uncategorized

In response to my post on lower-tier law schools being the better bet for aspiring solos, law student Zeb wrote:

I'm a second year student at the University of Baltimore, a supposedly 4th tier school (that just happens to supply the bulk of trial lawyers in Baltimore). Mr. Bennett's intial post has inspired me to post this comment seeking advice. I have an interest in a criminal defense career. Given the nature of the law school course requirements and scheduling, it looks like I'll have to make choices between taking substantive criminal law electives (Constitutional Criminal Procedure II, Federal Criminal Practice, Forensic Evidence, Sentencing and Plea Bargaining Seminar), and legal skills classes (trial advocacy, advanced trial ad, bench trial ad, appellate ad, litigation process, criminal law clinic, etc.). Which type of course is more valuable–the substantive course or the skills course?My instincts tell me that one can learn the substantive law via independent study, and so I should load up on the more practical legal skills courses while making sure I take the not required but highly recommended bar-tested courses. Do you folks agree? If not, why not?

My sense is that Zeb is right, especially if the skills classes will teach practical criminal procedure (not what the books say, but how things really work in the local courthouses).

I know Señor Greenfield has written extensively about improving law school. But what advice do you guys have for future lawyers who want to extract as much as they can from law school in preparation for a criminal defense practice?

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