Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stanford Law School Revolutionizes Legal Education by... Copying Penn Law School's Curriculum

See the official press release here.

I first heard about this story from the WSJ Law Blog, and clicked on the press release before even reading the whole blog post. My initial reaction? Disappointment, and shock that Stanford was trying to claim these changes were revolutionary or innovative. And it seems that most commentators shared this reaction.

Stanford is pretty much copying the Penn Law School curriculum verbatim and passing it off as "innovative."

Let's take a look at what Stanford is doing:
  • Changing the academic calendar so that it matches the rest of the university in order to make it easier to do joint degrees and take classes elsewhere.
    • Hardly revolutionary. Penn did this a few years ago. Nowadays that's probably the case at most law schools.
  • More joint degrees, including some that can be done in the same 3 years as the J.D. Stanford Law Dean Kramer claims that
    • Penn already has these... in fact, Penn has a few J.D./Masters programs where you can earn the master's degree without paying any extra tuition whatsoever or having to take any extra classes.
  • Oh, Stanford is also introducing "concentration sequences" for those who don't want to do a formal joint degree.
    • Yeah, Penn has this for a while, as have probably several other top law schools. In fact, Penn and a few other schools even let you do concentrations/certificates in other departments.
  • Negotiation classes uniting law students and business students.
    • Yup, got that too. Several of them in fact. And they've been around for several years now.
  • Clinical course with law students and medical students working together.
    • Uh huh, also have that here.
  • Clinical rotation program.
    • The press release doesn't make it clear if this is required or not. If it's not required, Penn (and probably virtually every other law school in the country) already has virtually the same thing in the form of full semester externships (which likely involve more practical experience given that a semester is longer than a quarter).
      • And if it is required, it's still not revultionary, since Northeastern is famous for its co-op program.
I'm not saying that the Stanford reforms are not a step in the right direction... however, of all the things I would call these reforms, "revolutionary" is certainly not one of the terms that would ever spring to mind.

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Blogger Luke Gilman said...

Disappointing? Sure. Shocking? Eh... Deans are to curriculum changes as grandparents are to grandbabies. What self-respecting Dean/Grandparent's progeny isn't the cutest/smartest/most innovative, etc, etc?

Here's a question I haven't heard asked in the whole curriculum debate as much as I would like. Is innovation really an appropriate goal in legal education?

In my understanding, innovation = risk = a percentage of failure. I look at law school as something akin to buying bonds. The current economy and business environment has conditioned us to always think of innovation as a good thing. Is innovation always a good thing when it comes to law school?

12/01/2006 11:37 AM  
Blogger Luis Villa said...

If the current system actually worked, sure, a little innovation might be risky. But the current system is a completely failure in just about every way imaginable, except that the students coming out of it get employed*. Grades bear little relationship to real-world laywering ability; subjects of education bear little relationship to real-world firm needs; etc. That's just terrible. Not clear that this will help (I'd say Harvard's almost certainly doesn't) but hey... have to start somewhere.

* Obviously for most students this is all that matters, but that's a pathetic and limited view of the world that the system shouldn't encourage.

12/01/2006 11:44 AM  
Blogger Luis Villa said...

And of course, the VC points out that everything new is old again, linking not to Penn but to GWU, 25 years ago.

12/03/2006 12:33 PM  

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