THERE is much current enthusiasm for skills provision in all aspects of education and training, and particularly in law, and in this essay I want to explore the question of what role the academy1--the university--should play in this regard. The most direct route into the problem is to ask what a comprehensive and vocationally relevant law degree curriculum should look like. A popular answer has been that it should be something like it always was, but with more attention to 'legal skills'. In one sense, there is much to commend this response, providing that we are not expected to accept that what is meant by 'legal skills' is self- evident. For the understanding of the enterprise of law we bring to the discussion of appropriate skills is a crucial determinant of our thinking about educational policy, and thus it falls to us to explain precisely what we mean by these central references to law, the legal and legal skills.
Given that it is no longer possible to discuss the idea of legal education independently of the importance of legal skills, in what follows I want to discuss the possible implications of the growth and spread of a number of ideas which are currently implicit in the skills debate. The ideas to which I refer concern conceptions of the legal enterprise, and conceptions of what types of theoretical information, organisational capacities and practical attitudes are appropriate to an understanding of it. Insofar as these issues are of academic concern, it is a matter of some importance how we arrive at these conceptions.2 In suggesting that there are ambiguities at the most fundamental stages of theorising the idea of legal education, I hope to make a preliminary case for a reorientation of the debate about the discipline of law in general by rethinking some of our ideas about legal skills. In particular I want to explore two areas of concern.
The first arises from the ambiguity of the relationship between the idea of the legal academy, and the actual activities and 'requirements of practising legal professionals. I will suggest that a laudable but insufficiently theorised consensus on the need for curricular 'relevance' has resulted in a narrowly 'professional' understanding of legal skills. This, I Will argue, is inhibiting the development of an imaginative and critical conception of not only the essential nature and wide importance of legal skills, but of the very idea of legal education.
The second, and related, point is that even in full recognition of the need to provide an academic input into specialist professional education, we find that the majority of skills required by Legal Professionals3 can in no edifying sense be regarded as distinctively____________________
Sociologists of law dupe themselves and their audience if they represent sociology as an unproblematic tool for the study of law. Moreover, the deception is compounded if law is taken as an unproblematic object of study. Law is often taken as the subject matter of the sociology of law. To deny this may seem an outrage, but it will be denied here. The assumed eminence of law for study, given its conrete existence, permanence and facticity, has contributed an unreflective attitude towards the sociological enterprise, particularly on matters pertaining to the nature of social phenomena.-- Grace C. and Wilkinson P. Sociological Inquiry and Lega Phenomena. ( Collier Macmillan, London, 1978), p.5