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Designing a Law 2050 Law School Curriculum

One of the final assignment prompts for my Law 2050 class asked the students to write a memo to the Law School Curriculum Committee recommending “how to innovate the curriculum to respond to the ‘new normal’ in the legal industry and best position students to enter and succeed in legal practice over first 10 years of their careers.” I received 45 very thoughtful and comprehensive responses. Recall that Law 2050 could best be described as a boot camp on the “new normal,” exploring everything from outsourcing to legal tech to how to make a practice out of Google Glass, so these students were primed to go on the topic of what to include in the curriculum beyond a survey course like Law 2050.  Here’s my synthesis of what they would like to tell the Curriculum Committee.

First, four proposed new course cluster themes dominated the student proposals, with well over 80 percent of the papers proposing courses in two or more of these clusters:

  • Legal Process/Project/Program Management: Students want to know more about efficient management of legal processes (e.g., due diligence), discrete projects (e.g., drafting a contract), and broad programs (e.g., managing origination of hundreds of similar contracts). This theme also includes suggestions for courses on E-discovery and Legal Risk Management, which draw on routinized and efficient process techniques.
  • Legal Technologies and Technologists: Michael Mills’ presentation of Neota Logic’s flowcharting technology platform was one of the smash hits of the class, and a good number of students presented law-tech and big data companies for their case studies, such as Lex Machina and Tymetrix. Students want to understand what these emerging technologies do, how they work, and even how to design them. This theme also includes suggestions for courses on Legal Software and Coding and Legal Computation and Analytics, as well as a number of suggestions that the law-tech theme be designed around some type of clinical delivery model.
  • Legal Entrepreneurism and Startup: Although much of the discussion of the “new normal” dwells on Big Law, plenty of class time focused on innovative legal startups such as Ravel Law and Casetext, as well as on how legal innovations can better support other industry entrepreneurs and startups. This theme also included many suggestions for a clinical setting, such as teaming up with business incubators.
  • Legal Business Management and Innovation:  With all the emphasis on “more for less” and “disruption,” students expressed a strong demand for courses they described as Law Firm Management and Finance, the Future of Legal Practice, Alternative Legal Services Business Models, Solo and Small Firm Practice, and similar themes.

Beyond these four dominant themes, which I am happy to say are being integrated into the offerings at Vanderbilt, quite a number of other innovations popped out of the papers, including:

  • As courses like the above are integrated into the curriculum, design a Legal Technology and Management Certificate
  • Push some of the content of Law 2050 themes into the 1L year
  • Offer a course focusing on nontraditional legal jobs, such as legal process management, legal risk management, and regulatory compliance systems
  • Offer a course on Comparative Legal Services Regulation
  • Offer a course on Legal Leadership
  • Include regulatory compliance flowcharting exercises in more classes
  • Integrate the law-tech issues into the Professional Responsibility course
  • Develop a year-long speaker series picking up on many of the Law 2050 themes

Finally, many students included proposals which, while not fitting within the Law 2050 scope directly, are consistent with the theme, heard over and over again, that they need to hit the ground running (or at least walking a lot faster than my peers and I were when we graduated!). The dominant topics in this category were:

  • Expand extern and clinic offerings, and even make taking one mandatory
  • Require each student to take at least two “skills” designated courses
  • Include courses and training on non-trial pre-trial skills, such as taking depositions, interviewing clients, communicating with courts and other counsel, reading records, etc.
  • Offer a course on understanding how businesses operate, how they make the “legal buy” decision, and how they manage their legal operations
  • Offer a class on “behavioral practice skills” such as case evaluation, legal communications, and risk assessment and communication to clients
  • Offer more and broader transactional document drafting courses
  • Offer a three-year JD/MBA
  • Offer a course like Harvard’s Legal Problem Solving workshop
  • Offer a more practice-oriented advanced Legal Writing course covering short answer memos, white papers, client letters, letters to opposing counsel, drafting interrogatories and document requests, etc.

Overall, I found this set of papers impressive in terms of the attention my students gave to the exercise and their creative, thoughtful suggestions. I was also gratified to think that my class sparked such a depth of interest in learning more about the topics fitting under the Law 2050 roof. With this kind of student effort and input coming in the first offering of the class, I’m looking forward to the Fall 2014 class even more.

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