Davis speaks about desegregating cognitive, ethical, and practical methods of legal education

On March 26, Peggy Cooper Davis, John S.R. Shad Professor of Lawyering and Ethics and director of the Lawyering Program, delivered Georgia State University College of Law’s 44th Henry J. Miller Distinguished Lecture on "Desegregating Legal Education."

Davis’ speech focused on the Carnegie Foundation’s critique of legal education and its recommendation that the cognitive, ethical, and practical methods be integrated into legal education.

Davis recalled her days as a law student in Langdell Hall at Harvard, taking the required first-year courses taught in the Langdellian, or Socratic, method. “I was almost as thrilled by [my professors’] erudition and agile wit as I was terrified that they would glance up from their seating charts and call out my name,” she said. “I still keep their pictures on my refrigerator.”

Davis noted that the Langdellian method was designed for law students to learn in the way psychologists increasingly say both children and adults learn best: by working collaboratively and at the growing edge of their abilities, at times sharing and applying collaborator’s knowledge and methods and at other times gaining new knowledge and developing new methods.

But she recalled how little emphasis was placed on skills training in legal research and writing and how spottily prepared she felt for practice.

Davis called for desegregation rather than integration. “We don’t just need to put the three apprenticeships together; we need to undo the effects of their segregation by resolving the misunderstandings that caused us to keep them apart,” she said. “Indeed, the ironic truth is that the reasoning behind the Langdellian method has been embraced by clinical teachers and scholars even as it has gone ignored by most Langdellian teachers.”

She said the desegregation process is proceeding, although not at a brisk pace.

“Genuine integration is necessarily hard to achieve,” she said. “But we have made steady progress toward the day when no student leaves law school as I did – without having thought about what it means to use the law in the responsible service of a client or a cause. We’re not perfect, but we’re doing a lot better than the guys on the refrigerator.”

Earlier this year, National Jurist named Davis one of the most influential people in legal education.