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Friday, December 01, 2006

A New Era of Law School Innovation?

Are we entering a new era of law school pedagogy -- a shift in legal education unlike anything in the last 100 years?

There is certainly evidence to this effect.  Three of the nation's top law schools -- Harvard, Stanford, and Vanderbilt -- have plans for radically reshaping the law school curriculum.  Stanford unveiled its new "3D" JD plan earlier this week.  The new program -- which Dean Larry Kramer hopes will be completed in 2009 -- will focus on making changes to the second and third years of law school.  Stanford plans to integrate the JD curriculum with other university departments, allow for more than 20 joint degree programs, and create more opportunities for team learning.  The number of simulation courses will be drastically increased, and students will be able to enroll in a "clinical rotation" in which the clinic is their exclusive course for that particular quarter.  Dean Kramer sums up the reforms thusly: "The upper years, as presently configured, are a lost opportunity to teach today’s lawyers things they need to know. Lawyers need to be educated more broadly—with courses beyond the traditional law school curriculum—if they are to serve their clients and society well.”

Stanford's new approach comes on the heels of Harvard's announcement that it will be revamping the JD first-year curriculum.  Of course, these approaches are quite different, as Dean Kramer has himself pointed out.  (See this article in the National Law Journal, as well as fascinating exchanges over at the Law School Innovation Blog here and here.  The WSJ Law Blog describes Stanford's press release as in part a "jeremiad" by Dean Kramer on the traditional law school curriculum.)  But both Stanford and Harvard tout their new programs as revolutionary changes to the law school curriculum.  Vanderbilt has yet to announce changes to the basic curriculum, but Dean Edward Rubin has spoken about his desire to change legal education, and Vanderbilt has started by creating a new Ph.D program in Law and Economics.

A few thoughts on this potential for a new era:

  • Will this new era be driven by top-down change or bottom-up innovations?  The changes by Harvard, Stanford, and Vanderbilt may signal a top-down approach.  But with the advent of blogs, it may be that these mini-cauldrons of debate and discussion may allow for a nation-wide debate among individual professors and students that gradually bubbles up.  Law School Innovation Blog is an obvious focal point, but many blogs will be able to contribute to the debate.
  • How will course materials for these new courses and programs be developed?  I have argued (here and here) that law schools and law professors should take an open source and open access approach to creating new course materials.  Both Harvard and Stanford indicate in their press releases that they hope their changes will serve as a model for other schools to follow.  If they make their new programs publicly visible with open access to materials, it will be much easier for other schools to follow their leads and build on their success.
  • Finally, what does this mean for professors?  Will Stanford be asking its current professors to teach differently, or will it be looking for professors with different skills?  Is this a moment in time where the skill set for professors will begin to change?  In a recent post, I discussed Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, which chronicles how the left tackle became a much more important position in football.  Will Stanford's changes make professors who have interdisciplinary training or can teach transactional skills more valuable?

I look forward to following these developments.

Posted by Matt Bodie on December 1, 2006 at 12:23 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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» Stanford Law Announces Revamped Upper-Level Curriculum: from The Volokh Conspiracy
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Matt Bodie's post on whether we are experiencing a "new era of law school innovation" in the curriculum reminds me of a very interesting article I recently read: [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 1, 2006 1:04:52 AM


Isn't the real issue that firms hire on the basis of the first year alone, making the second and third years job-landing irrelevancies for so many?

Posted by: michael | Feb 12, 2007 1:55:00 AM

You're (at leat partly) right about the MA programs, it seems. Though of course even the 'one year' ones at Columbia involve (at least on the few I clicked on) a full-time summer session, too, so it's not merely on academic year.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 1, 2006 9:50:44 AM

What looks interesting to me is the move to quarters in which students take only the clinic, akin to the quarters at schools with "co-op" programs, such as Northeastern and (now) Drexel. There frequently are time conflicts between clinics and doctrinal classes--many students really zeroed in on representing their clients are going to miss classes (as many of my students do when they are visiting immigration clients at the federal detention center) or not be as fully prepared for classes. There is a conflict of when to take clinics--after or while taking certain core classes, such as Evidence or criminal procedure. Making one quarter all-clinic/all-the-time solves some of those conflicts. It also allows students to get a better sense of what practice is like. It may only work on the quarter system, of course. But it is an interesting idea.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 1, 2006 9:26:48 AM

Well, look at the portion of the press release you quoted:

"many of the JD/Masters degrees—in such fields as engineering, education, environmental science, and more—can be completed in the same three years it has traditionally taken to earn a JD alone."

Engineering, education, and environmental science seem like the types of disciplines that would award "professional" Masters degrees. And, given that Stanford Law (primarily) produces lawyers rather than academics, it shouldn't be surprising that a lot (all?) of the three year JD/Masters programs would have a professional focus rather than an academic one.

However I still maintain that many (perhaps even most) academic MAs are just one year long. For instance, take a look at Columbia's free-standing MAs:


Posted by: Anthony | Dec 1, 2006 12:48:49 AM

Hmm, maybe that's so for professional MAs of some sort, but it's not the case for MAs in an academic discipline, even in stand-alone MA programs. There are a few exceptions but they also usually require summer school for at least one, often two, summers. (I suppose I don't consider most bioethics stuff to be seriously academic, though that's neither hear nor there as far as the broader question goes.)

Posted by: Matt | Dec 1, 2006 12:29:45 AM

Lots of master's degrees are only one year if done full-time (in fact I've rarely seen two year MA programs outside of the "get an MA when you finish year 2 of your PhD program" context).

Have one term of law school credit count towards the master's and have one term of master's credit count towards the JD and you cut a year off while earning both degrees in three years. That's how the JD/M.Bioethics joint degree program at Penn works.

Posted by: Anthony | Nov 30, 2006 11:53:59 PM

From the Stanford press release: "many of the JD/Masters degrees—in such fields as engineering, education, environmental science, and more—can be completed in the same three years it has traditionally taken to earn a JD alone." That seems weird, since even if you cut out a year w/ jointly counted work a JD and MA would be 4 years. It's hard for me to see how you could do enough work to justify both degrees in just 3 years if the degrees really mean the same thing as they would on their own.

Posted by: Matt | Nov 30, 2006 11:32:58 PM

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