« on: March 24, 2008, 10:20:07 AM »
Interesting article today on Leiter Reports about W&L plan to not have students take any traditional law school classes during their third year...
Washington & Lee's Radical Transformation of the 3rd Year of Law School
One law professor at another school, who called the proposal to my attention, wrote to me with some reasonable concerns about this curricular change:
If 100% practice is the way to run the third year, isn't the obvious answer to make a J.D. program a two year affair? Also, it creates horrible choices for students, who have only the 2L year in which to take electives. If Jurisprudence conflicts on the schedule with Evidence, you have to take one or the other, but you can't take both. (W & L has a small faculty and on small faculties many electives are offered only one time per academic year, and in some cases only every other academic year.) Similarly, even if the conflict is between Jurisprudence and Partnership Tax, it forces choices on students that they should not face. And, you also have to ask about how a practical curriculum will (must?) affect faculty hiring choices -- are traditional hiring criteria the appropriate standards for faculty for the 3L year? I'm guessing "no," on the theory that J.D./D. Phil. isn't likely able (or very much interested) in teaching a civil practice clinic or a practicum on drafting wills. . . Maybe there's some merit to this "reform" that I'm just not seeing, but it seems like a very risky, "all in" kind of move.
It is clearly very risky: if it succeeds, it will transform Washington & Lee into a leader in legal education, to which the top firms will flock for new hires; if it fails--because, for example, good students and faculty choose to go elsewhere--Washington & Lee may never recover as a top 30-35 law school with a quasi-national status. The risk, put simply, is that within the legal academy, interdisciplinary scholarship is the coin of prestige in the realm, which is why one finds schools like Stanford, under Dean Larry Kramer, touting initiatives like more JD/PhD programs, and why elite law schools hire almost exclusively interdisciplinary scholars. Washington & Lee is, as my correspondent noted, going to have to do very different faculty hiring in order to staff this ambitious new program. If it succeeds, students and ultimately employers will be the beneficiaries, and other schools will no doubt follow suit. But in the short term there is a real risk that Washington & Lee's reputation among legal academics may take a real hit.