chapter  1
24 Pages

Theory and Practice, Together at Last

A Heretical, Empirical Account of Canadian Legal Education
WithDavid Sandomierski

This chapter draws on qualitative empirical research to explore how Canadian Contracts teachers conceive of the relationship between theory and practice. Based on semi-structured interviews and course materials, it demonstrates that when professors talk about their teaching (goals, rationales, and practices), they overwhelmingly tend to view theory and practice as mutually reinforcing. This finding complicates and renders problematic a primary trope in legal education, whereby the academy and the profession are viewed as polar opposites in a struggle over jurisdiction.

However, it also details how when professors talk about their role, or the mission of a law school, they do speak in oppositional terms about theory and practice. Accordingly, professors tend to treat theory and practice in oppositional terms when talking about their mission or the institution’s mission, but in integrative terms when talking about their teaching.

This contrast leads to a number of insights. First is the relevance of conducting empirical research into legal education at an individual scale, to escape the taken-for-granted “grammar” of the discourse in legal education that tends to focus on the macro scale of curricular and institutional design. Second, it provokes reflection on the duality of roles that law professors either experience or articulate. Do law professors have a split identity, do they inhabit multiple roles simultaneously, or is the contrast simply an illustration of the tendency to say one thing, and do another? This chapter poses these questions and concludes with the suggestion that empirical research into legal education may be generative of new frameworks of discourse, ones that capture more fully the “operative” problems in legal education.