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The Carnegie Reort and Legal Writing: Does the Report Go Far Enough?

Christine N. Coughlin, Wake Forest University
Lisa T. McElroy, Drexel University
Deborah S. Gordon, Drexel University

Abstract

Release in 2007 of a comprehensive and innovative report on legal education, known now simply as “the Carnegie Report,” has generated widespread excitement throughout the legal academy. Recognizing that law school “forms minds and shapes identities” of nearly all legal professionals, this landmark look at legal education applauds and defends legal pedagogy that integrates “theoretical and practical legal knowledge and professional identity.” Many legal educators have proclaimed the Carnegie Report’s importance, and some have begun to propose and develop educational programs that implement the Report’s recommendations.

Responses to the Carnegie Report have not all been positive, however. While heralding the Report’s broad goal of fostering a law school experience that integrates theory, practice, and professionalism, some legal educators have cautioned that the Report does not go far enough because it continues to embrace case dialogue as law school’s signature pedagogy, recommends additional forms of pedagogy that replicate the same fundamental problems, or sacrifices traditional subject matter foundational for the development of professional skills.

With respect to legal writing, the Carnegie Report praises the work of legal writing faculties, largely because they grasp that the best law school teaching is interactive and experiential in nature; much of the Report’s discussion of legal writing, however, reinforces hierarchies and damaging stereotypes that undermine rather than support the Report’s fundamental lessons about educating thoughtful, engaged, and ethical lawyers. The Report also fails to appreciate the significant lessons that legal writing faculties can teach their “non-skills” colleagues. With expertise in developing techniques for experiential learning, outcomes assessment, and formative assessment, skills faculties have much to share with the rest of the academy.

In an effort to further the already significant strides in legal pedagogy that the Carnegie Report has engendered, this Article highlights some of the Report’s shortcomings in its description of legal writing and its actual and potential contributions to legal education. Part I of this Article describes the Carnegie Report’s basic recommendations for legal educators and some of the many responses to those recommendations. Part II examines the Carnegie Report’s unquestioning acceptance of legal academy hierarchies and describes the damage of these attitudes on law student learning. Part III explains that in addition to providing guidance on making legal learning more interactive and experiential, skills faculties— who know a great deal about formative assessment, the focus of the proposed ABA standards—can guide non-skills faculty in implementing the Report’s fundamental charge to make assessment more meaningful. In sum, although this Article commends the Carnegie Report’s recognition that legal education can benefit from an integrated approach to learning, the Article also addresses the Carnegie Report’s shortcomings in its approach to and commentary on skills faculty. Specifically, the Report failed to recognize that legal writing professionals routinely use best practices in education, including formative assessments, and the Report therefore missed an opportunity to promote this particular expertise throughout the academy.

Suggested Citation

Christine N. Coughlin, Lisa T. McElroy, and Deborah S. Gordon. "The Carnegie Reort and Legal Writing: Does the Report Go Far Enough?" The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute 17 (2011): 279-324.

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