Law School Innovators

The National Law Journal

The foundation of modern legal education dates to the late 1800s, when Christopher Columbus Langdell introduced the case method as dean of Harvard Law School. Law schools have tweaked their curriculum models since then. Clinics gained in popularity during the 1970s, and some law schools now take a more interdisciplinary approach. Still, "innovation" is not a term often applied to law schools. Lawyers are by nature risk-averse, and legal education has been relatively slow to change when compared with other professional programs.

That said, the pressure for change will not be denied. Comprehensive reports issued in recent years have faulted legal education for doing too little to teach ethics and professionalism. More importantly, the changing legal marketplace is putting pressure on schools to update their curricula and ­better prepare students to actually practice law. Students and prospective students are more savvy than ever about the cost of attending law school and are better informed about their post-graduation employment prospects. The American Bar Association, meanwhile, is revamping its accreditation standards to require schools to lay out what they aim to teach students.

During the past two years alone, a number of law schools have voluntarily reduced enrollment; many others have added masters of law programs or programs for nonlawyers; some have launched much more comprehensive ethics and professionalism programs emphasizing real-world business skills; still others have gotten creative about helping students land jobs.

In this special report, we highlight a few law schools, students and professors who are pushing the boundaries of traditional legal education and legal theory. — Karen Sloan

Think of it as a residency for lawyers
Arizona State creates an actual law firm to prepare its graduates to practice in the real world.

Legal education goes high-tech
Georgetown students devise computer applications that dispense legal guidance.
 

Penn focuses a lens on legal problems
Students learn through movie-making that there's more than one way to conduct advocacy.
 NLJ VIDEO: Pay Up!: Criminal Justice Debt in Philadelphia
Philadelphia's aggressive campaign to collect over $1 billion in outstanding criminal court fines has been called into question for its impact on the poor.

Have you heard the latest on federalism?
Two professors came up with a theory under which the Affordable Care Act makes perfect sense.

OPINION: Experiential legal education
Several law schools have allied to make clinics, simulations and other hands-on courses the norm, not an afterthought.
 

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