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    In legal education, criticism is conceived as an academic activity. As lecturers, we expect from students more than just the expression of their opinion; they have to evaluate and criticize a certain practice, building on a sound argumentation and provide suggestions on how to improve this practice. Criticism not only entails a negative judgment but is also constructive since it aims at changing the current state of affairs that it rejects (for some reason or other). In this article, we want to show how we train critical writing in the legal skills course for first-year law students (Juridische vaardigheden) at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. We start with a general characterization of the skill of critical writing on the basis of four questions: 1. Why should we train critical writing? 2. What does criticism mean in a legal context? 3. How to carry out legal criticism? and 4. How to derive recommendations from the criticism raised? Subsequently, we discuss, as an illustration to the last two questions, the Dutch Urgenda case, which gave rise to a lively debate in the Netherlands on the role of the judge. Finally, we show how we have applied our general understanding of critical writing to our legal skills course. We describe the didactic approach followed and our experiences with it.


Bart van Klink
Bart van Klink is Professor of Legal Methodology, Department of Legal Theory and History, Faculty of Law, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Lyana Francot
Lyana Francot is Associate Professor of Legal Theory, Department of Legal Theory and History, Faculty of Law, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    This paper starts by reviewing empirical research that threatens law and economics’ initial success. This research has demonstrated that the functioning of the law cannot be well understood based on the assumption of the rational actor and that policies which are based on this assumption are likely to be flawed. Subsequently, three responses to this criticism are discussed. Whereas the first response denounces this criticism by maintaining that the limitations attributed to the rational actor can easily be incorporated in rational choice theory, the second response welcomes the criticism as an opportunity to come up with an integrative theory of law and behavior. The third response also takes the criticism seriously but replaces the aspiration to come up with such an integrative theory by a context-sensitive approach. It will be argued that the first two responses fall short while the third response offers a promising way to go forward.


Peter Mascini
Prof. dr. P. Mascini, Erasmus School of Law and Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

    Legal doctrinal scholarship engages with the problems of legal practice: it systematizes, comments on, evaluates and debates what goes on in law. These activities do not occur in a vacuum: they are embedded in scholarly traditions and theories. This paper discusses the role of the theoretical frameworks used in legal research and has two related aims. First, it aims to provide some practical conceptualizations and guidelines regarding theoretical and normative frameworks that are useful to understand and conduct legal research. Second, it aims to investigate the relationships between different kinds of normative frameworks and their relationship to empirical work. In the second part, an argument is made for a pragmatist understanding of the interplay between normative theorizing and empirical study. How do these work together in judgments about the state of the law?


Sanne Taekema
Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam; taekema@law.eur.nl.
Artikel

Access_open Skeptical Legal Education

How to Develop a Critical Attitude?

Journal Law and Method, 2013
Keywords academic learning, skepticism, Oakeshott, judgment, Critique
Authors Bart van Klink and Bald de Vries
AbstractAuthor's information

    Law teachers at the university want students to develop a critical attitude. But what exactly does it mean to be critical and why is it important to be critical? How can a critical attitude be promoted? In this article we intend to elucidate the role that critical thinking may play in legal education. We will introduce the idea of skeptical legal education, which is to a large extent based on Michael Oakeshott’s understanding of liberal learning but which relativizes its insistence on the non-instrumentality of learning and reinforces its critical potential. Subsequently, the article presents a teaching experiment, where students, based on self-organization, study and discuss basic texts in order to encourage critical thinking.


Bart van Klink
Bart van Klink is professor of Legal Methodology at VU University Amsterdam and head of the Department of Legal Theory and Legal History at VU University Amsterdam.

Bald de Vries
Ulbaldus de Vries is lecturer of Legal Theory at the Department of administrative and constitutional law and jurisprudence at the Faculty of law, Utrecht University. He is a founding-member of the Working Group on Reflexive Modernisation and Law.
Artikel

Access_open The Role of Hierarchy, Example, and Language in Learning

A Confrontation between a Liberal and a ‘Critical’ Understanding of Legal Education

Journal Law and Method, 2013
Keywords skeptical legal education, academic learning, Critique, Knowledge, CLS, liberalism, power
Authors Bart van Klink
AbstractAuthor's information

    In The Voice of Liberal Learning, Michael Oakeshott characterizes learning as a strictly non-instrumental activity. In schools and universities, knowledge is acquired for its own sake. Obviously, this liberal understanding of education differs fundamentally from a ‘critical’ notion of education as advocated by Duncan Kennedy and other members of the CLS movement. From a ‘critical’ perspective, Oakeshott’s conception may be seen as yet another attempt – typical for liberalism and conservatism alike – to depoliticize the process of knowledge production and reproduction and to conceal (and thereby to strengthen and legitimize) its effects on the distribution of power, wealth, status and so forth in society. In this paper, the author will confront both views with each other, especially within the context of legal education. The general purpose is to develop a notion of skeptical legal education, which is to a large extent based on Oakeshott’s understanding of liberal learning but which relativizes its insistence on the non-instrumentality of learning and reinforces its critical potential.


Bart van Klink
Bart van Klink is professor of Legal Methodology at VU University Amsterdam and head of the Department of Legal Theory and Legal History at VU University Amsterdam.
Artikel

Access_open Legal Doctrine As a Non-Normative Discipline

A Refinement of Niiniluoto’s and Aarnio’s Distinction between Norm-Descriptions, Norm-Contentions and Norm-Recommendations

Journal Law and Method, 2012
Keywords legal doctrine as a science, non-normative discipline, norm-descriptions, norm-contentions, norm-recommendations, Aarnio and Niiniluoto
Authors Anne Ruth Mackor
AbstractAuthor's information

    In this article, the author argues that legal doctrine is not more normative than other scientific disciplines. This argumentation is built on the claim that the distinction between descriptive and normative statements is too simple to analyze the nature of legal doctrine. In the author’s view, a more detailed analysis of legal statements helps to achieve a better and more accurate characterization of legal doctrine as a science. For this purpose, the author builds on the distinction of Aarnio and Niiniluoto between norm-descriptions, norm-contentions and norm-recommendations. She argues that legal doctrine consists mainly of empirical and non-empirical norm-descriptions and that it can therefore be considered as a non-normative discipline.


Anne Ruth Mackor
Anne Ruth Mackor is professor of professional ethics, in particular of legal professions, at the Faculty of Law and Socrates professor of professional ethics at the Faculties of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Groningen.
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