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Saturday, April 07, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 57 (Dan Rodriguez)

Masters in our Domain

A number of contributors, including Bobby Ahdieh, Megan Carpenter, Michael Waterstone, and Kellye Testy, have posted in this symposium about the proliferation and contributions of degree programs for non-lawyers.  However one slices and dices the data, it is becoming clear that the development of these programs is a major event in the modern evolution of legal education.  There are more than 17,000 non-JD students enrolled in ABA-accredited law schools right now, and, while I do not know the breakdown between LLM and other programs, I am reasonably confident that the non-LLM Masters cohort is large and where the real growth is.  We can expect these programs to grow apace, even though, as Ahdieh notes, what we mean by “these programs” is complicated, as different law schools (including mine, with our MSL/Law-STEM program) pursue different strategies in the marketplace.

I want to add to this discussion two reflections.  First, the attention paid to the market, that is, the demand of students for these programs on the one hand the demand of the marketplace for individuals with these new, and rather unusual, credentials and education, should not blind us to the need as law schools and legal educators to make some fundamental judgments about (1) what it means as a pedagogical – and even epistemological – matter to teach law to folks who are not aspiring to become lawyers, and (2) how we expect these students to become integrated in a law school environment where the core mission remains educating future lawyers.

In developing and improving our unique (for now!) program at Northwestern, I think about these issues a lot.  (Indeed, I think I have a book in me about this subject, but that will have to await the formal surrender of my administrative day job!).  The educational mission of teaching students in these masters’ programs can be collapsed into the larger mission of teaching anyone in the class – and that is Emory’s model (as best I understand it, only two foundational courses are specific for the residential program) and the model of programs which simply make available law courses to audiences wider than matriculated JD students.  I understand the impulse behind the decision to do this, both from an economic and administrative perspective (read: sunk costs and unused capacity is often our friend).  I understand less how a law school can do this in a way without attending to the core question of how we think about teaching students for a professional avocation, that is, the avocation of lawyering.  When I teach Property to 1Ls, I am conscious – at least I aspire to be – of the need to tie doctrinal information to a picture of a lawyer’s role.  This is not experiential learning by any stretch, but it is an intentional tethering of information to role, of intellectual sophistication to acumen that would suit a lawyer (to be sure, a lawyer of many different clothes and places in The Profession.  I wouldn’t expect that this focus would or should reach individuals who are sitting in my class because they are truly interest in property, but not interested in using what they learn in property as lawyers acting as lawyers.

I have taught for four consecutive years Legal & Regulatory Process, a course at my law school limited to the MSL students.  It is a required course, so I have taught every student who has come through the program, now over 200. This course is not administrative law or statutory interpretation lite, although I certainly get into some of the same sets of issues that arise when I teach some version of this subject to JD students.  Rather, I am conscious about the eclectic professional roles and objectives that our diverse MSL students have and their need to develop a coherent, useful vocabulary to aid them in learning law.  I well understand that, for many (most?) of them, they are looking for information and insights that go well beyond what an intellectual curious person, with the money to afford our expensive program, would want from an in-depth study of legal & regulatory process.  And I am been continually impressed by the rigor and sophistication which these students bring to this course and to their questions and written work.  But my focus as a teacher is different not only because their pre-course preparation is different, but because I am not concentrating on teaching them how to think about, say, the due process clause of the Constitution as a lawyer would.  In a sense, this conversation goes back to the discussion in this Symposium initiated by Dan Hunter, where he talks about the undergraduate model and how we might think about disrupting our “precious” American post-graduate model.  But, back to my point, I want to insist that there is a piece missing in the pedagogical puzzle where we configure masters’ programs to bring together JD students with non-JD students.  My challenge to Bobby Ahdieh and others who are blending students together is to explain how it is possible to organize a way of teaching students who are not becoming lawyers to think like a lawyer.  I won’t be so critical as to say it can’t be done, but I do think the burden is on those who think it can be.

The integration question is, to me, fascinating and important as well.  The dilemma with our program is fairly apparent:  We are teaching dozens of students in MSL-specific courses, but we want them to avail themselves of opportunities to connect with JD students. We want that for them, and also for the JD students.  Because our program is focused like a laser on STEM-educated students, we crave the benefits for our JD student body of having this tech-savvy cohort of students around and involved in the curricular and extracurricular life of the law school.  We have been somewhat successful in forging collaborative opportunities – including some limited involvement by MSL students on journals, a small number of classes (including an Innovation Lab) which are open to students of both programs, an interesting off-campus venture that has brought a cadre of JD, MSL, & LLM students to the San Francisco Bay Area during our spring break to visit with, and learn from, leading entrepreneurs and high tech companies (including Google, Apple, Golden Gate Capital, & Y Combinator).  We look for opportunities for additional integration.  Other law schools, I am sure, are attending to these issues of integration as well, and in ways that best suit their culture, resources, and objectives.  Integration of students from diverse professional backgrounds and post-graduate aspirations is a tall task (as so many law schools have experienced with LLM programs to be sure).  Yet it is a task worth reflecting upon with the collective wisdom of our colleagues working on these projects and programs.

I understand that these reflections get just past the tip of the iceberg.  We are seeing the emergence and rapid growth of programs for non-lawyers and are truly just beginning a collective conversation that will help us better map out strategies for improving and sustaining these programs.  More ambitiously, this iterative conversation will, I suggest, help us think in more imaginative ways about what legal education is about and aspires to be.  Saying that it is not about lawyers anymore is, while true, much too glib.  What will this program building do to help us see our way toward a more promising future.

Dan Rodriguez (Northwestern)


Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 7, 2018 at 08:03 PM | Permalink


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