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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Modular Curriculum

Unlike most of the regular bloggers here at Prawfsblawg, I've been doing this Law Professor gig for several years. But this semester, I'm doing a first-time prep for a new course, Professional Responsibility. This is a blast!  It's a course that has something to interest every law professor. I could imagine a dean asking the faculty to create some overcapacity for this course, developing 10-12 people who are all part of a rotation to teach 3-4 sections each year. 

More generally, I think there are real gains available for a law school that adopts a "modular curriculum" strategy.  Instead of every faculty member developing 4-5 courses and repeating them each year (let's call this the "stability model"), everyone develops 6-8 courses and rotates to different parts of the curriculum each year. The start-up costs for faculty are nothing to discount, but once you've got the full collection of courses in the portfolio (maybe this takes 7-8 years to develop, with some years thrown in for light loads,etc.), the teaching prep from year to year is nothing out of the ordinary. The modular curriculum offers some freshness and flexibility, with benefits for faculty, deans, and students.

Does anyone know of any law schools that currently follow this model, which is pretty common for an arts and sciences faculty?   

Posted by Ron Wright on April 13, 2006 at 11:56 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Reply to Jeff and Ted about Chicago: that's an interesting decentralized version of the proposal. A handful of professors can create at least some pockets of a modular curriculum without any coordination. It sounds like at least a bit of encouragement comes from the administration, though. I wonder what form that encouragement takes?

Reply to Rick: your "Private Law" course takes a page right out of Civil Law legal education in Europe. I've taught a course on "Business Crimes and Torts" and the crime/tort overlap was a pretty productive comparison. In political terms, of course, the Private Law course is a non-starter, but it never hurts to dream!

Posted by: Ron Wright | Apr 13, 2006 7:56:34 PM

To add to Rick's comment, I've always thought it would be fun to have a class combining torts and criminal law entitled "Responses to Wrongdoing" or something like that. It would bring out the similarities between the two fields (the conceptual centrality of wrongs, fault, responsibility, causation, justification and excuse) as well as their disimilarities (purpose versus negligence as the paradigm case of fault; bad acts versus bad consequences as the trigger for liability; and of course punishment (except for restitution) versus compensation (except for punitive damages) as remedies).

Posted by: Adil Haque | Apr 13, 2006 5:05:10 PM

I can confirm University of Chicago law professors rotate in this fashion, some more than others: Richard Epstein will hit just about every first-year course over a six-year stretch, while others will mostly stay in their specialty with the occasional venture out into a second class.

Posted by: Ted | Apr 13, 2006 4:19:00 PM

Ron, I think you are right. I've got a new course this term, and I'm enjoying it very much. A related thought / proposal: I once heard it suggested that law schools should consider scrapping the torts / property / contracts requirements and folding them into one mega-course, "private law", which would (along with an introduction to legal materials and methods) constitute the first-semester curriculum. What do you think?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Apr 13, 2006 3:02:41 PM

Ron, it's not the modular arrangement you describe, but I was told that at Chicago people are encouraged to teach courses completely out of their usual area from time to time, for the same reasons. Whether it is formal or informal, I don't know.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Apr 13, 2006 1:52:30 PM

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