Solved! — A Tool for Today’s Experiential Legal Education?

(Bordwin ’55 recently published Solved!, a book about how a business lawyer can solve clients’ problems “strategically — with creativity and imagination.” Below are his reflections on the book)

This is the saga of a business lawyer who, after decades of practice, learned that he’d gained a reputation as a problem-solver and now, at age 86, has written a book of 40 Tales describing how he solved the most vexing problems clients threw at him over a 60-year career.  Early manuscript readers told me they enjoyed reading these stories, but the lawyers who read the MS all had the same reaction:  “This is a must for law students and young lawyers.”  And this from a U.S. Senator; a Federal Appeals Court Judge; law school professors; a law school dean; and a large-firm corporate lawyer.  I asked law professors for clarification.  They told me that these Tales of my experiences fit into today’s law schools’ movement toward “experiential legal education.”  I had to find out what that was all about.

Turns out that my annual judging Ames Competition cases and participating in the HLS Problem Solving Workshop Program were a small part of this experiential education movement; today’s curriculum at HLS (always a leader!) includes Dispute-Resolution; Drafting; Negotiation; Clinical Work and more; and this experiential education direction is now mandated by the ABA as a condition of a law school’s accreditation.  Since my lawyer readers were unanimous that SOLVED! is an educational tool that will help law students transition into practice, I had to understand the “why” and “how” of this relation, if any, between my Tales and legal education today.  More precisely, the questions are:  “What are law-teachers’ goals?  Can my experiences as related in the Tales help in achieving those goals?  And if so, how?”

To answer those questions, I first went back to 1959.  Having served a brief stint on the HLS Faculty 1957-1959, I was privy to the professors’ work on curriculum revision.  Did they have concerns back then about helping students transition to law practice?  And are those concerns reflected in my own experiences as told in SOLVED!?  Yes and Yes.  Just three examples:

Dean Erwin N. Griswold:  “We should  . . .concentrate on method, technique, vocabulary, approach, art and the other things that go to make up a lawyer who will be qualified to dig into problems, learn their details, and handle them well when problems come before him in later years . . .”

Professor Donald T. Trautman:  “. . . an orderly study of various kinds of problem-solving operations, …a client interview . . . culminating in advice to the client …”

Professor Clark Byse:  “The task of the [Law School] is (1) to prepare its students for the profession of the practice of law . . .”

I then needed to learn how these Faculty concerns are playing out in the 21st Century, so I referred to the 5-author Carnegie Foundation book, Educating Lawyers – Preparation for the Profession of Law (Wiley 2007).  It concluded that at that time “no worthy pedagogical theory of legal practice on which skills training might be founded has been produced.” [p.94]  Excerpts from that book gave me a better understanding of how my problem-solving experiences as recounted in SOLVED! could help law students transition into law practice.  Here are some examples of the professors’ pedagogical goals – goals which are dealt with by one or more Tales in SOLVED!:

  • “…understanding professional practice as judgment in action …” [p.9]
  • “Enabling students to learn to make judgments under conditions of uncertainty.” [p.22]
  • “. . . the ability to think precisely, to analyze coldly, to work within a body of materials that is given, . . . and manipulate the machinery of the law.” [p.78]
  • “. . . engaging with the moral dimensions of professional life” [p.88].
  • “Teaching students how to learn from experience.” [p.22]“ “…learners must first master new skills and understanding in one setting and then figure out how to bring them into use in an entirely different one.”   And “. . .apply what they have learned in one context to another, different one.”   [pp.59 and 62]
  • “…legal understanding can diverge significantly from what [students] understand as moral norms or standards of fairness.” [p.24] And “…forces students to separate their sense of justice and fairness from their understanding of the requirements of legal procedure and doctrine“ [p.57]   (And, I would add, the lawyers’ ethical duty to focus on and zealously represent their client’s interests.)
  • “…the role of ‘strategizers’ … And “ability to translate messy situations into the clarity and precision of legal procedure and doctrine and then to take strategic action . . .” [p.54]

And so I’m asking for your thoughts today:  Can SOLVED! help law students in transitioning from law school to practice?  I’d enjoy hearing from law students and new associates. Purchase Solved! here and email Milton at mbordwin@rubinrudman.com.

Milton Bordwin, JD ’55  and LL.M ‘59, has been a practicing lawyer for sixty years and is a member of the Massachusetts, New York and Supreme Court bars.

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