Your Professor’s Goals

All professors are different. However, most of them are trying to accomplish two basic goals: (1) teaching you the law (content), and (2) teaching you to “think like a lawyer” (skills). Although your professors may vary in the degree to which they emphasize these goals, chances are that most of what occurs in the classroom is designed to accomplish one or both of these goals.

Law is, in large part, a series of rules designed to serve a social policy. Thus, at one level, learning the law is about learning rules (as well as the terminology that is used in such rules). Such rules and the related terminology can be thought of as the “content” of the law.

Sometimes you might wish that your professors would simply give you the legal content in a field — i.e., tell you the rules and terminology relevant to the field — and be done with it. And sometimes, this is what professors do. However, such an approach would suffer from (at least) two problems.

First, when you become a “real lawyer,” you may not have anyone to tell you what are the rules that may be relevant to your clients’ problems. More likely, you will have to figure out the relevant rules. Thus, many of your teachers will seek to teach you how to find rules, which often involves learning how to locate legal sources, determine a rule from those sources, articulate that rule, and then refine your articulation of that rule (i.e., the skill of deriving rules) analyze the rule within a factual circumstance and apply it.

Second, as a lawyer, it is not enough to know rules; you will need to develop skills that will permit you to comprehend and apply those rules in order to solve your clients’ legal problems. And to be truly effective as a lawyer, you will need to develop two further skills: You will need to be able to see how various rules fit together (the skill of synthesis) and how various sets of rules serve, or fail to serve, the policy objectives the rules were designed to address (the skill of evaluation).

Educational theorists (whose work many of your professors have read) believe that these skills — or goals — are built upon each other in the following order:

  • Knowledge. At this stage, your professor wants you to know, and be able to recite, legal terminology, rules, principles and legal concepts. This may be thought of as content (although, as noted above, many professors will seek to help you develop the skill of learning how to derive such content on your own).
  • Comprehension. At this stage, your professor seeks to help you deepen your understanding of such content, expanding your ability to paraphrase, compare and contrast legal concepts, arguments and principles, and help you develop the ability to spot legal issues and define legal problems.
  • Analysis and Application. At this stage, your professor seeks to help you develop the ability to use the rules and principles you have learned to solve legal problems.
  • Synthesis. At this stage, your professor seeks to help you learn to understand and analyze legal reasoning, so that you can see how various rules and principles fit together. These skills, once developed, will enable you to build original legal theories.
  • Evaluation. At this stage, your professor seeks to build your ability to critically evaluate the law and analyze the utility, effectiveness and social impact of legal doctrine and procedures, and to integrate non-legal approaches into the problem solving process. These skills will enable you to be a truly effective advocate and problem-solver.
    In addition to building these thinking skills, many professors will seek to improve your ability to communicate effectively, persuade, and advocate.

For more detailed explanations of these stages of learning, and the related teaching goals, click on the links in the list above.

Your professors may use various classroom methods to accomplish these goals. Click HERE to see a list of some of these methods. Then, on the pages describing the various teaching methods, you will find links to examples of how each method may be used to accomplish these goals.