Clinical Legal Education

A Twenty-first-Century Perspective
  • Anthony G. Amsterdam


Using the rhetorical device of a scholar looking backward, the author identifies shortcomings in legal education of the twentieth century and highlights positive changes in twenty-first-century methods of legal instruction.

Not only did twentieth-century legal education fail to teach students practical legal skills, critical analysis and decision-making methods, but it did not give students systematic training in effective techniques for learning law from the experience of practicing law. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, a pedagogic method sometimes referred to as the clinical method of legal instruction was developed that would broaden legal education in all of these dimensions. In this clinical teaching method, students took part in role playing exercises designed to familiarize them with various aspects of legal practice; their performance in these role-playing exercises would then be critically evaluated by the legal instructor. The author points out, however, that implementing this pedagogic method effectively required that legal educational institutions cut back substantially on teaching the old curricula in the traditional method. This demanded re-motivation of law teachers, some retraining and not a little rethinking. But from our twenty-first-century perspective, concludes the author, it is clear that the gains outweigh the losses.


clinical analysis decision-making methods decision making clinical method of legal instruction clinical legal education role-playing case reading doctrinal analysis pedagogic method interpretation litigation application logical conceptualization criticism ends-means thinking hypothesis information acquisition best-case/worst-case analyses analytic technique analytic mode risk degree of risk predicting arguing legal education contingency planning comparative risk evaluation substantive law probability experience post mortem critical review client methodologies student-teacher ratios torts contracts criminal law property civil procedure admiralty antitrust self-evaluative methodologies 


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  1. Amsterdam, Anthony. 1984. Clinical legal education: A 21st-century perspective. Journal of Legal Education 34: 610–22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Iris Geva-May 2005

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  • Anthony G. Amsterdam

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