Week 6: Legal Education in a Time of Reform
By Elizabeth Pietanza
Over the past 5 years, legal education in Chile has been undergoing tremendous changes. In the past, almost all classes were taught lecture-style and there were little or no opportunities to take clinical, seminar or multidisciplinary courses. Most classes focused on the Civil and Criminal Codes and students were tested on memorization rather than analysis. That is still the case for several law schools, but there is a movement toward application of the legal curriculum, away from recitation.
In general, law school, which also integrates the U.S. version of undergraduate studies, requires about seven and a half years to complete. After high school, students may proceed directly to law school, where they take courses for five years. The student then has about a year and a half to prepare a thesis, and about one year to prepare for a final and comprehensive oral exam. The analytical part of the education comes from the new lawyer’s place of employment, where practicing attorneys will spend a number of years working with young attorneys to develop and hone analytical skills.
The Universidad de Chile provides one example of a law school that is modernizing its curriculum. It now offers eight concentrations of law: civil and commercial, criminal, international, labor, public, procedural (civil and criminal), science of the law (legal history) and legal education. To graduate with any area of concentration, a student must complete 358 units. They must take thirty-eight required courses that cover all the areas of concentration. The remaining thirty courses required for graduation are mostly legal electives, which are only now starting to include options such as seminars and legal clinics. The student must also take four elective non-legal courses.
How does this change in legal education coincide with the Reforma Procesal? The Reforma includes the multi-disciplinary aims of protecting civil liberties, ensuring due process of law, enforcing property rights and upholding contracts. To support the success of these changes, students now need to learn about the different subjects and how to reflect on the values and difficulties posed by these changes. Second, the Reforma transferred a significant amount of power from judges to attorneys. To best handle this responsibility, more classes such as moot court and negotiations are necessary to properly train lawyers in these skills. Finally, if lawyers are to seek civic responsibility and participate in social change as the Reforma encourages, a more general education, perhaps similar to the curriculum of undergraduate school in the U.S., could be helpful in giving lawyers the knowledge and ability to comment and argue on areas of topical concern. The offering of more generalized courses, however, still does not have a strong presence in the modernized legal curriculum.
Why are developments in legal education so critical now? In addition to procedural changes brought on by the Reforma, Chile will quickly need to address social issues challenging its historical Roman Catholic influence. For example, both divorce and abortion are illegal in Chile. Homosexuality is rarely talked about in the open. If there are to be social changes, lawyers who have a profound understanding of these particular issues and their influences, forces and effects can lead the path to change to embrace the realities of this age.
In law school we learn that through our academics and practical skills we have the capability to influence policy and change the law. Chile is now sharing that lesson with its law students.
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