STANFORD, Calif.- LAWFUEL – Law News Network -Stanford Law School today announced changes that are transforming the JD into a three-dimensional degree program that combines 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. Stanford’s innovation is being driven by the new demands on modern lawyers, which are fundamentally different from those present when the law school curriculum was formed.
Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer said the pedagogical changes the school is spearheading are focused on the second and third year curriculum. He hopes Stanford’s reform—which began last year and should be fully implemented by 2009—will provide a model for legal education generally.
“Talk to any lawyer or law school graduate and they will tell you they were increasingly disengaged in their second and third years,” Kramer said. “It’s because the second and third year curriculum is for the most part repeating what they did in their first year and adds little of intellectual and professional value. They learn more doctrine, which is certainly valuable, but in a way that is inefficient and progressively less useful. 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.”
“Business, medicine, government, education, science, and technology have all grown immensely more specialized,” Kramer said. “Legal education must adapt. How can a lawyer truly comprehend and grapple with a complex intellectual property dispute without understanding anything about the technology at issue? What counselor can effectively advise a client about investing in China or India without understanding their particular legal structures, to say nothing of their different cultural expectations and norms?”
To serve clients capably or address major social and political issues, lawyers now must work in cross-disciplinary/cross-professional teams, particularly given that they work in increasingly sophisticated industries and fields—engineering, medicine, biotech, the environment. They must also practice law in a global context. “Where only a tiny number of graduates used to practice law across national borders, today only a tiny number do not,” Kramer noted. “International law, particularly the law governing private actors in the international arena, has gone from the periphery to the center, and law schools have been scrambling to adapt.”
Although lawyers were historically called upon (and trained) mainly to identify problems, they are increasingly being called upon to help solve them. To do this, especially in a world where the problems have grown more intricate, lawyers need to understand what their clients do at a much more sophisticated level than can be taught through the existing law school curriculum or in the traditional law school classroom.
Stanford Law School’s first change has been to make it easy for law students to take courses outside the law school, thus creating a way to add breadth in their education. The school voted last January to change its academic calendar—a traditional law school semester system—to match the rest of the university, which operates on the quarter system. Over the next several years, the Law School will operate on a modified semester schedule, with the plan being to switch fully to quarters in the fall of 2009.
And while the school has long permitted applicants to propose virtually any joint degree, Kramer wants to take joint degrees a step further than other schools by enlarging the number of such programs that enable students to complete the requirements more quickly and at less expense. Specifically, he hopes to formalize more than 20 joint degree masters and PhD programs over the next three years, modeled on the longstanding JD/MBA program. Like the JD/MBA, these programs combine course requirements in ways that greatly reduce the time and money it takes to pursue two distinct degrees, typically saving a full year. Hence, 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.
Stanford Law School is in a unique position among law schools to broaden the curriculum because of the concentration of top rated graduate programs on one campus—business, engineering, medicine, environmental science, political science, and economics.
“What we’re doing here no other university has done,” said Kramer, “and almost no other university can do, because they don’t have the same number and quality of schools and departments. The idea is to utilize the rest of the university to create a more three-dimensional legal education. We realized that the rest of the university is training the people who will become our students’ clients. Good lawyers need to understand what their clients do.”
For students who are not seeking joint degrees, but who want to explore interdisciplinary topics in moderate depth, the law school is offering “concentration sequences.” In addition the school’s plan includes new simulation courses, more clinical opportunities, an enhanced international law program, and better curriculum advising.
The simulation courses are team-oriented, problem-solving courses that teach law students to work in teams with graduate students from other Stanford University programs. For example, in a course on expert witnesses, law students and students from the natural sciences work together through simulated exercises to prepare a witness to testify in a patent infringement case. New negotiation classes unite students from law, business, and engineering in exercises with “clients” as well as “opponents.” A new clinical course has law students working with medical students to address the full range of interrelated legal and medical needs of incoming patients.
The clinical program is being expanded and transformed in order to teach students how to work with clients and colleagues, how to address the ethical dilemmas that arise in practice, and how to apply legal concepts taught hypothetically or in the abstract in the classroom to a real world, client representation situation. Currently, Stanford Law School offers a variety of clinics that litigate in a number of specialized fields, including immigrants’ rights, community law, cyberlaw, environmental protection, and educational advocacy. The clinics provide pro bono representation and operate cohesively as a single law firm, the Stanford Legal Clinic (SLC).
Many of Stanford’s clinics have been pathbreaking and have won key federal rulings in the areas of environmental protection, disability rights, age-discrimination, bankruptcy protection for retirees, and more. The first clinic, the Stanford Community Law Clinic, was the first of its kind in 1984 to provide free legal assistance to low-income Bay Area clients. One of the most well-known clinics and an emerging-model for other law schools is the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, which has worked on more than two dozen Supreme Court cases, including sixteen merits cases since its founding in 2004.
Two more clinics are being added in the next academic year: one to train students as corporate counsel for not-for-profit organizations, and the other to offer students hands-on experience in national criminal appeals dealing with cutting-edge issues.
Most important, not only is the law school expanding the number and range of its clinical courses, but it is developing a “clinical rotation” where students take only a clinic during a particular quarter—with no competing exams or classes. This approach mirrors the way that medical students have been trained as doctors for the past century. The clinical rotation will enable the school to deliver a much more intensive experience, including a better professional ethics component and a deeper research and writing component. It also permits the school to operate clinics in a greater variety of settings—including overseas.
“The hallmark of a great clinical program is its commitment to teach students to reflect on how law really works and how they practice law. We are not simply throwing students in the water and telling them to swim. We are using the vehicle of representation as the perfect pedagogical tool for inculcating a method of lawyering that is highly thoughtful and highly ethical. At the same time, we hope to instill in our students a commitment to making public service a permanent fixture in their professional lives,” said Larry Marshall, professor of law, David and Stephanie Mills Director of Clinical Education, and associate dean for Public Interest and Clinical Education.
Stanford made changes to its first year curriculum in the 1980s, adding flexibility to the first year by offering international law, administrative and regulatory law, problem solving/quantitative analysis, and some “perspectives” courses like law and economics, and law and society. Primarily, the first year remains built around the basics (torts, contracts, property, civil procedure, constitutional law, and criminal law) in order to teach core legal concepts and the basic process of legal argumentation.
“The first year generally works,” Kramer said. “The problem is that legal education has traditionally involved teaching one skill (thinking like a lawyer), and doing so for three years,” Kramer said. “The second and third year curriculum is thus best described as ‘more of the same.’”
“Yet more of the same is not enough. What we’re doing is creating an upper level experience that is very different from the one students have traditionally had,” Kramer said. “The core legal education remains as strong as ever, and our law faculty continues to do what it does best. But students can have a much richer, more varied educational experience in which they also get opportunities to study across disciplines, to work in teams with students from law and other disciplines, to have a serious and intense clinical experience.”
“At Stanford, we think lawyers have a valuable role to play—not just in modernizing the way that law is practiced, but in helping to solve the world’s problems. And we think we are uniquely positioned among law schools to produce lawyers who do that,” Kramer said.
About Stanford Law School
Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching. The school’s home page is located at www.law.stanford.edu.
About Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer
Recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Larry Kramer is considered one of the leading legal scholars in the country. He has contributed pathbreaking work on state-state and state-federal conflict of laws, federalism and its history, and most recently, the role of courts in society. His book, The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review, has sparked renewed interest in the ongoing debate about the relationship between the Supreme Court of the United States and politics, and established Dean Kramer as a maverick in the field of constitutional theory and interpretation. In addition to being a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dean Kramer is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Law Institute. Before joining the Stanford faculty in 2004, Dean Kramer served as Associate Dean for Research and Academics and Russell D. Niles Professor of Law at New York University School of Law; professor of law at the University of Chicago and University of Michigan law schools; and consultant for Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP. Early in his career, Dean Kramer clerked for Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.