University of New Hampshire

School of Law

School of Law

Scalia’s Critique of Legal Education Echoes UNH Law’s Practice-Ready Philosophy

Supreme Court Justice Was Keynote Speaker at School’s Alumni Dinner

In his keynote address at UNH Law’s annual alumni dinner on March 22, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia offered an extensive critique of several trends in contemporary legal education. Tracing the rise of the legal academy over the past 140 years, Scalia lamented courses that move beyond the traditional curriculum to incorporate other disciplines, and how this allows students to graduate without having studied all the necessary areas of the law.

Justice Antonin Scalia at UNH Law alumni dinnerThis development, in Scalia’s view, is connected to the increasingly esoteric nature of legal scholarship, which has become disconnected from what law students, and lawyers, need to know.  “There’s not much more legal scholarship to be done,” he said, “and too many scholars to do it.” Scalia recalled his own decade as a law professor and said he now realizes the impression he made on his students was far more lasting than any law review article he published.

When UNH Law was established 40 years ago, as the Franklin Pierce Law Center, its founders were reacting to two shortcomings they saw in American legal education: the failure to effectively teach professional skills and the neglect of intellectual property law – what was then an obscure specialty and is now recognized as an essential engine to economic development. As the school has grown and developed, the essential goal of providing hands-on legal education in a small, intimate environment has never changed.

This commitment to producing practice-ready lawyers extends to faculty members and their research. Instead of producing the type of scholarship that Scalia declared to be of “no value to the practitioner, or would-be practitioner,” UNH Law professors are engaged in consequential scholarship — research that tackles real-world issues, such as legal representation for immigrants and improving the patent valuation process.

Scalia also warned that too few law professors have significant experience as practitioners, citing his own review of the Harvard Law School faculty roster. “The academic mindset is too far removed from the practice of law,” he said.

At UNH Law, faculty members have extensive legal experience. From their work in firms and industry, and as clerks and judges, the school’s professors understand the law as it is actually practiced and work to break down any barriers between the classroom and the real world.

The practical experience of the faculty leads to numerous hands-on opportunities for the students. In fact, 95% of the class of 2012 joined a legal clinic or completed a legal residency. And UNH Law is nationally known for its Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, a pioneering alternative bar licensing program that has been called “a sea change in the way lawyers are prepared” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

In concluding his analysis of the shortcomings of American legal education, Scalia joked, “I hope that most of what I said has no application to this wonderful law school.”

It does not, said Jordan Budd, associate dean for academic affairs at UNH Law. “It was music to my ears because it is a critique we fully embrace and that our law school has long been at the forefront of advancing,” Budd said.

UNH Law’s alumni dinner, held at Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle, NH, hosted more than 300 alumni and friends to mark the school’s 40th anniversary.

UNH Law Dean John Broderick said the school was honored to feature the senior associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as the dinner’s keynote speaker. This comes on the heels of other good news for the school, including the launch this spring of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy with a national conference on fiscal responsibility. And in January, the law school voted to formally integrate with the University of New Hampshire, capping off a fruitful two-year affiliation period between both schools.