Towards Engaged Scholarship
Document Type Article
This article addresses the relatively novel question of whether, as law school teaching evolves to embrace legal practice, the scholarship of law school professors should become more engaged in the practice as well. Traditional legal scholarship necessarily engages a central objective of law school teaching, which is to impart an understanding of the law and the legal system to students who must learn legal analysis and to “think like lawyers.” On the other hand, the practice-oriented influences of the Carnegie Foundation’s Educating Lawyers and the report of the Clinical Legal Education Association, Best Practices for Legal Education, have been working on the academy for only five years; law teachers are just now learning how they can better prepare their students to practice law “effectively and responsibly in the contexts they are likely to encounter as new lawyers.”
These reports have stimulated a vast literature on how law professors can improve their teaching methods, how law schools can alter their curricula, and how the legal academy as a whole can prioritize skills education. Much less attention has been paid to the connection between legal scholarship and practice-oriented teaching. For many law professors, there is an intuitive link between their teaching and scholarship. Does that link apply to teaching law students to be more practice-oriented, and what precisely does that mean? Should our scholarship examine more regularly the problems that practitioners confront and the contexts in which they arise?
This article contains and analyzes the reflections of sixteen law professors on this issue of linking scholarship to the context of legal practice. From these reflections, several themes are identified that lead to new perspective on legal scholarship in a time of dynamic change in the law school education. This article begins a dialogue on engaged scholarship and concludes with the hope that its discussion of the issue will help the legal academy reflect critically on one of the most important roles of law professors as academics and as molders of the careers of their students.