February 14th, 2012 by Gwynne Monahan
Back in October, we blogged about the changing legal education landscape, and how some law schools were starting solo and small law firm incubators. A Stanford Law School blog post from yesterday, announcing its “completion of the first phase of comprehensive reforms to its legal curriculum” caught our attention.
The transformation of its legal curriculum began back in 2006, with its “3D” JD concept. The idea is to take advantage of the different schools at Stanford University in order to combine law school with ”the study of other disciplines with team-oriented, problem-solving techniques and expanded clinical training that enables students to represent clients and litigate cases—before they graduate.” A worthwhile goal, even in 2006.
As we’ve noted, law schools have taught the law with the expectation that the hiring firm will teach the graduate how to be a lawyer. The recession brought to light a significant crack in this method, and many law graduates are now suing law schools over inflated employment data. They’ve graduated with knowledge, but few skills, skills generally taught by law firms who haven’t been hiring many new graduates since the recession.
While solo and small law firm incubators are one way to “help bridge the gap between law schools and the practice of law,” and teach skills necessary for starting and running a law practice, so, too is the interdisciplinary approach taken by Stanford Law School. Its joint JD/MBA program is well known, and it is not uncommon today to see many joint JD/MBA programs. What Stanford Law School has done, though, is take the joint degree concept and expand it to encompass practically any discipline. Its Overview section sums up its goal nicely:
Our strategy is to apply this successful model of cross-cultural immersion to other disciplines that fit or underlie the many career paths future lawyers may pursue–from management science and computer science to sociology, economics, environmental policy, bioengineering, education, health policy, politics, and more.
Cross-cultural immersion. Many career paths future lawyers may pursue.
With the rapid advancements in technology, from the Internet to smartphones and tablets, and our more globalized world today, it doesn’t take much to see how an interdisciplinary approach to legal education may be beneficial. There is much overlap these days, from patents to land disputes to issues of freedom of speech and human rights. We find ourselves wondering if an interdisciplinary path for legal education is an inevitability. Or will law school become a bachelors degree?
There’s no clear answer, but what does seem true is that legal education, much like the legal profession, is changing.