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September 10, 2007

Back-to-school musings: teaching sentencing

A few years ago when guest-blogging at PrawfsBlawg, I suggested here that sentencing law and policy is badly "under-taught" in law school.  I contended (and still believe) that a sentencing course should become a modern staple in the upper-level law school curriculum.  Two years later, I sense that a (slowly) growing number of schools are offering a sentencing course, but such a course is still a curricular exception rather than the rule.  (Of course, my pitch for more sentencing instruction is biased for many reasons, including the fact that I have recently wrapped up work on the second edition of my co-authored casebook entitled Sentencing Law and Policy.)

Against this backdrop, I was intrigued to see Larry Kramer, Dean of the Stanford Law School, make a strong pitch for moving the law school calender away semesters to quarters to "increase the number of course opportunities by 50%."  (Dean Kramer's comments and related musings are noted in this post at Law School Innovation.)   I suspect that if more law schools moved to a quarter system, there would be more opportunities for the development of sentencing courses and other courses that are not yet, but should be, part of a standard law school curriculum.

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September 10, 2007 at 03:51 PM | Permalink


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I agree that sentencing issues should be part of the curriculum. Anyone who intends to go into a criminal law field--whether as a prosecutor or defender--must have an understanding of sentencing issues because the vast majority of cases never go to trial but do go to sentencing. Similarly, courses in arbitration and negotiation should be nearly mandatory for any attorney considering a civil practice, especially in family law. Increasingly, courts require parties to participate in such proceedings. It would also help if law schools suggested various "tracks" for students heading in certain directions, rather than leaving students to guess at what is useful. I like the suggestion for quarters because it is also important for students to be able to experience areas they otherwise might not, like water law.

Posted by: defense attorney | Sep 10, 2007 4:04:10 PM

I teach sentencing law as an adjunct at Cardozo Law School. As an alternative to courses by law school faculty, perhaps other practitioners should/could approach local law schools to propose seminars like that which I teach. Indeed, this is precisely how sentencing law is taught at Columbia (Judge Gerald Lynch of the SDNY) and NYU (Judge John Gleeson of the EDNY).

Posted by: Harlan Protass | Sep 10, 2007 4:48:31 PM

I attended Cardozo, and although I did not take Mr. Protass's course (I'm not sure when he began offering it), I did take an excellent upper-level course titled "Advanced Criminal Law" in which sentencing was the predominant issue. Substantial attention was given both to law and policy, and frankly I don't think I could survive in my current job without having had that course. I wonder how often sentencing hides on schedules under course names that lack the word "sentencing."

Posted by: law clerk | Sep 10, 2007 8:21:03 PM

I agree. The only way to create uniformity and actual discussion about sentences, is not simply “make them higher” but to actively teach sentencing as a discipline in law schools.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 11, 2007 8:36:20 AM

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