The section for legal commentary of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) just published (in German) a few of my unscientific observations on the differences between German and American legal education.
Summary version in English, just for fun:
America: Law schools in the USA are rich from alumni donations, land grants, and tuition fees. The facilities (and salaries) at even a middle-ranking U.S. law school far outshine those at any German university. In the US, law is a graduate degree, so every student must get a bachelor’s degree before starting law school. Also, every U.S. law student has gotten good grades and results on several objective tests (just how good depends on the ranking of the law school). So US students are older, and there is a much narrower spectrum of ability for American law students: they’ve gone through a rigorous selection process. They also have to pay for their education. So almost nobody drops out and, there is an atmosphere of pressure and competition. Law teaching in the USA is much more pragmatic and less systematic than in Germany — almost all professors are also lawyers, and instruction revolves around specific legal cases, not abstract presentations of doctrine. The common law is not a “science”, and U.S. law schools pay little attention to more abstract areas such as legal theory, legal history, or comparative law (areas in which German law schools shine).
Germany: Law is an undergraduate degree; students start studying it when they’re 19 years old. There are no objective admissions tests, and over 50% of German students get a high-school degree which guarantees them a place in a university if they want it. The differences in reputation and status among German law schools are trivial in comparison with those differences in the USA. Many students start studying law, then find out they dislike it or can’t understand it. So the selection process is post-admission; 1/3 of all law students drop out. The excellent students, of which there are many, shine. However, German legal education, like education in general, is not a luxury all-round experience as it is in the USA. You can get an outstanding legal education, but you’ll have to organize it on your own, amid (comparatively) bare-bones surroundings. German legal education is much more abstract and doctrine-focused than in the USA (although the 2-year post-law school apprenticeship makes up for this). It’s also more intellectually challenging and rich — the law is seen not just as a mechanism for resolving disputes, but an important component of European history and values. Therefore history and philosophy of law, as well as comparative law, are much more important in Germany than in the USA.
Comments, questions, feedback as always welcome.
Writing this piece gave me an idea about a series of posts in which I describe German legal education in more depth. So little is available on the subject in English. I’ll post when my schedule permits.