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Friday, April 06, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 52 (Robert Ahdieh)

Toward a Third Leg of the Law School Curriculum

Many of the symposium’s posts have explored curricular changes in legal education – including both past changes and potential ones we might consider for the future. 

In a sense, participants’ reflections on such changes represents our collective sweet spot.  Deans and former deans in the conversation may have powerful insights regarding budget and finance.  Those who have overseen admissions or career placement may have distinctive perspectives in those spheres.  And so on and so forth.  But all of us have insight into the curriculum.

Against that backdrop, this brief post does not attempt to propose any particular curricular innovation.  Or to decry the power that the dead hand of Christopher Columbus Langdell still exerts over us.  Rather, it offers a way to frame and perhaps think about at least some subset of the curricular innovations we have discussed or might consider in the future.

Law schools have long done well in teaching the substantive content of the law – and well as the distinct analytical skills of “thinking like a lawyer”.  For all the negative attention the latter task has received in recent years, its importance remains self-evident.  Both it and the substantive content of law must thus remain the critical first leg of the stool of a comprehensive and consequential legal education.

For the last fifty years, in turn, we have likewise realized the centrality of training law students in the skills of effective lawyering.  Of course, legal research and writing have been central to that undertaking – including as evident in the professionalization of legal writing teaching in recent decades.  Clinical education is to similar effect, in ensuring that our graduates understand the ethical duties and functional skills of the very best lawyers.  More recently, externships and simulation courses have added further strength to the second leg of the stool: the legal skills essential to being an effective lawyer.

What about the last decade?

 

Much of our effort at curricular innovation, I would suggest, might be thought of building a third leg of the stool: what I would frame as the non-legal skills of effective lawyering.  At Emory – as elsewhere – we have introduced a growing collection of courses directed to skills that are essential to operating at the highest level of legal practice, but which are not legal skills per se.  From leadership, project management, and various soft skills, to the fundamentals of client value, the economics of legal practice, and basic accounting, these skills are likely to significantly enhance the efficacy of lawyers in the 21st century – notwithstanding their distance from the traditional core curriculum of legal education.

At Emory, we have offered the bulk of those courses in conjunction with the Goizueta Business School.  We have offered them in concentrated formats, meanwhile, to maximize the ability of a wide swath of students to enroll.  Whatever the format, however, such courses might be thought of as helping to ensure that our graduates are versed in the full range of skills and abilities to thrive amidst a challenging – but opportunity-rich – landscape of legal practice in the 21st century.  That they sit on a very stable stool.

Robert Ahdieh (Emory)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 6, 2018 at 04:35 PM | Permalink

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