Academic Channel Features Non-Academic Lawyers Panel

The panel of lawyers from the United States and Canada made it clear that the practice of law was a technical, non-academic profession. The implication for the moderator, Prof. Joseph Edrey, Dean of the University’s Law Faculty, seemed to be that emphasis in legal education had to be on students’ passing the bar examination.

The five practicing lawyers on the panel were Peter Rosenblatt, a Washington attorney who had served in the Johnson White House; Judith Hendin, of Ottawa, who serves on the National Parole Board of Canada; Jonathan Friedland, American-born and educated United States consular agent in Haifa; Robert Benowitz, a New York corporation securities specialist who represents the University of Haifa in the United States; and Michael Newman, founder and partner of a Los Angeles firm that does much international law.

The five had arrived for the University’s Board of Governors Meeting in June and found themselves on a televised panel “show.” Their discussion of issues raised by Professor Edrey was broadcast on the Academic Channel, the new University-initiated cable TV channel that reaches some 750,000 households throughout most of the country. The channel offers viewers a series of high-level, informative lectures, courses, and discussions.

The members of the panel, besides disappointing Edrey on the matter of education for lawyers, also could not get excited over two issues that had strongly exercised the Israeli legal establishment and the Israeli press. The first of these had to do with the nomination of an apparently unqualified person to be attorney general in return for backing on foreign policy; the second, the enactment of “basic laws” as a basis for a written constitution, which Israel does not have.

In regard to a law school curriculum, Rosenblatt seemed to be seeking a compromise when he said that it was important to teach underlying legal values, but acknowledged that law students also had to pass the bar exam. Hendin thought that legal education was important for the initial years of law practice, “but ultimately a case requires going beyond” the formal education.

In Benowitz’ view, the best law schools gave students an analytical ability. Newman agreed with this assessment, adding ironically that “law schools don’t teach how to practice law—what to do when you walk into a courtroom.”

Friedland was perhaps the most forthright in saying, somewhat in contradiction to Newman, that “law schools are simply a technical, not an academic endeavor.”

When Professor Edrey, in envy of the American system, cited the Israeli system for not offering students an undergraduate education before law school, the panel did not take up his criticism. “It is not a deficiency,” Newman said in response. “It is important that lawyers understand people. I got my greatest experience in learning about people as a taxi driver in New York.” On the other hand, suggesting the Israeli equivalent of a B.A. in general studies, he did say that a broad academic education was valuable to a litigator, who may have to deal with all kinds of issues. A lawyer, though, he continued, did not need a degree in, say, psychology or another field, as expert witnesses could be hired.

Rosenblatt, too, saw the value of a general undergraduate education in enabling lawyers to go beyond the technical aspects of their profession, since “lawyers are sensitive to society.” For Hendin, the B.A. in a particular field was important if the future lawyer was going to deal with that field. She herself served as an example, her knowledge of psychology, in which she earned an undergraduate degree, greatly helping her in her work on the parole board.

Benowitz pointed out that U.S. law schools were now offering more clinical experience, along the lines of the University of Haifa Law Faculty’s legal aid clinics.

As for the attempt made by the past government of Israel to force the nomination of an attorney general in exchange for votes on a particular policy, Friedland thought it raised a question of whether the people who run the country obey its laws. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice barely avoided indictments in the affair, which both he and Edrey considered cataclysmic.

Benowitz, however, quickly pointed to three U.S. attorneys general who had been investigated and forced to resign. The Canadian on the panel, Hendin, recalled a similar incident in her country that led to a resignation before any indictment. Rosenblatt told the moderator that there was “an unprecedented recourse to the judicial system” in the United States, but noted that the question of whether alleged misdeeds in an official’s private life are justiciable has so far been left unanswered.

Nor did the existence of a written constitution promise any better society, in the panel’s view. After hearing of the basic laws and of Israeli Chief Justice Barak’s declaring at the University of Haifa in 1992 that a “constitutional revolution” was in the making, Hendin remarked that Canada’s new charter didn’t change things greatly. Rosenblatt, who had been involved in establishing three independent states of countries that had been U.S. protectorates, commented that “no one thing works.” They may have orderly legal systems, he said, but England, whose system is “disorderly” without a written constitution, is known as the mother of legal societies.

Newman, too, thought that “what’s good for the United States [i.e., a constitution] is not necessarily good for Israel.” His criterion was what happens in a society in a time of crisis.

Responding to Edrey’s evaluation of whether or not a country protects the rights of its citizens “depends on culture, not on documents,” Rosenblatt cautioned that Israel “should test the water every year” in regard to not having a written document.


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