Law School Discussion

What are some Law Schools with radical, or "heterodox," programs of study?

Hello, I am searching for Law Schools with heterodox law programs.

For example, most economic grad programs today run the students through a conventional track teaching Neoclassical (or "Neoliberal") economics. But a number of schools have heterodox programs (meaning radical, non-mainstream) that study economics from a whole range of viewpoints, like Keynesianism (President Franklin Roosevelt's policies), Marxism, "Institutionalism (whatever that means) and others!

American University
Notre Dame
University of Massachusetts
University of Vermont
The full list is at:

It would be exciting to study Law from a radical perspective too!

A radical law program might talk about how corporate lobbying groups almost make our laws, or the contradiction between real democracy and democracy "as it is," where people might want things one way, but the government will still decide against their interests. Or how should a lawyer who believes in the public interest act differently than lawyers for corporate interests? Is it more important to choose a winnable case, or to take a stand on a losing, but vital issue?

There is a list of heterodox economic schools, but how about heterodox law schools?


I'm not too sure you're going to find what you're looking for. Law schools are professional schools- to prepare you for a career. Underlying theories of human nature are interesting, but not really relevant to understanding how a judge is likely to rule.  A heterodox view of law isn't going to serve you too well. Of course, there may be the individual professor in a philosophy of law class that has some interesting views, but the real purpose of law schools is to train you for the profession, not to let you question too much of it.

Not to make fun of dentists, but there aren't Platonian vs Hegelian views on the causes and cures of gingivitis, either.

If you're looking for schools that may have a more leftist or rightist view on advocacy, then you might consider Pepperdine or Liberty on the right, and perhaps Peoples' College of Law for a really left wing school. I'm fairly liberal, but many of my fellow students were far to the left of me when I went to Temple, but I don't think it's considered particularly liberal.

If you're looking for alternative theories of law, I might consider a legal studies degree instead of a JD.

There is not really any "school of thought" trend in particular law schools. As reverendlex indicated, you might try the fringe law schools that have definite political and ideological leanings (think Brigham Young, Notre Dame, CUNY, etc). But even there, whell, your interests are best served through course selection once you get into law school.

 Once you are *in* law school, there are usually ways of studying different kinds of approaches. After the first year, must law schools offer Critical Race Theory, Sexual Orientation and the Law, Gender and the Law, Civil Rights Law etc. It will be fairly easy to identify the political affiliations of your professors, although it will not always be reflected in their pre-professor activities (my Torts professor was a partner in a giant defense firm and was a huge fan of Rawls). You can go about choosing a mentor in the area you want to practice.

 There are major differences between the way graduate programs are operated and  the way the JD course of study is operated. A class on jurisprudence will expose you to competing theoretical approaches to the law, and you will see those concerns reflected in case law, to varying degrees. But law is both academic and professional. For most, it will not result in a teaching career, and fundamental theoretical debates are at best secondary.


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Georgetown, Section 3. (Curriculum B). Apparently, a "heterodox" program of study CAN serve students well! I am in it right now and I love it. I think this might be what you are looking for.

The following is from www.lawschoolcanbedifferent.o rg. It is a bit out of date because, as far as I know, Harvard has now adopted a similar approach for its 1L cur.

Curriculum B began about 15 years ago. In 1990, a group of Georgetown Law professors took a time off from teaching with the aid of a Department of Education grant to formulate an alternative first-year curriculum. They wanted the program to retain black-letter law elements of the standard curriculum, but at the same time take an updated approach to teaching which emphasized interdisciplinary or cross-doctrinal elements of the law, i.e., addressed "the emergence of the regulatory state," mapped the erosion of "doctrinal boundaries" (say between tort, contract, and property), and acknowledged influence of other disciplines such as economics, political science, philosophy and psychology.

The program was also supposed to be heavy on theory as opposed to case reading. Black letter law was supposed to be self-consciously critiqued as it was presented with attention paid to its historical placement within the various schools of American jurisprudential thought. At the same time, students would read primary documents that inform current legal debates (for example, a personal favorite: Robert L. Hale, Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State, 38 Political Science Quarterly (1923), 470-478.)

Lastly, as all the courses would be radically revisited instead of merely adding a new course or two to the existing first year curriculum, the professors would make a concerted effort to coordinate their lectures so that certain topics would be taught concurrently (for example, nuisance would be examined on a certain week in multiple appropriate classes).

The program was seen as offering an alternative vision of first year legal studies. It was hoped at the time that it might act as a catalyst for other law schools. Other alternative curriculums had been tried: Columbia in the '20s, more recently Stanford and Harvard. But these failed due to a combination of academic pressure to preserve the status quo and professorial drift.

GULC's Curriculum B began as a single section (3) in the 1991-92 academic year. Initially Curriculum B was marked by intense student engagement and the formation of various student caucuses, including: The Vision of a New Curriculum Caucus, The Race and Ethnicity Caucus, The Personal Responsibility Caucus, The Gender Caucus, and, of course, the Non-Caucus Caucus. The program sparked a lot of debate and outside speakers were brought into speak on how the still-malleable curriculum might be shaped. Richard Epstein apparently told his audience of Section 3 students that they weren't actually getting a legal education and the best thing they could do would be to drop out in shame and apply elsewhere.

The school tracked Section 3 graduates for six years and found they did very well in second and third year classes, and had no trouble finding employment. After that, the Curriculum was more or less static -- some changes were made in class structure, professors left, new professors came on board, some classes became more standard, then were (or are being) re-radicalized, the program drifted, as programs do.

There's more to say about the intervening years, but it's largely about what didn't happen. Curriculum B was never exported to another section, nor was it adopted beyond Georgetown. The classes stayed the largely same, with three of them still taught by original professors. The basic class structure -- large classes, (some) Socratic method, case reading, single end-of-year issue spotter exams, lack of personalized feedback -- seem uncomfortably dated in a way that undercuts some of the basic premises of Curriculum B.


Although Curriculum B is politically stable within GULC, it's oddly treated as somewhat of a dirty little secret, to the extent that often 2Ls and 3Ls here don't have a solid understanding of just what Section 3 is or how it differs from the regular curriculum beyond, "more reading, more theory." Personally, had I known in depth what Curriculum B entailed, GULC would have been my first (not second) choice for law school.

As a fairly radical innovation in the deeply conservative world of legal education, official references to Curriculum B such as those on the GULC website are always careful to point out that we cover "the same subject matter offered in more traditional curriculums" but that we simply approach it from a "different perspective that emphasizes the sources of law in history, philosophy, and political theory, as well as the influence of other fields, including economics."

From one of our school's web pages:

"The curriculum, available to one section of full time students, requires seven courses different in emphasis from those in the A curriculum: Bargain, Exchange, and Liability; Democracy and Coercion; Government Processes; Legal Justice Seminar; Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis; Legal Process; and Property in Time. The "B" section emphasizes the sources of law in history, philosophy, political theory, and economics. It also seeks to reflect the increasingly public nature of contemporary law."

You can see this does not do a very good job of "selling" the curriculum to prospective students or potentially exciting faculty (and students) elsewhere. Nor does it sell the curriculum to the party best able to bear the cost.

Some of the classes have a clear corollary to the standard curriculums, with Legal Practice = Legal Research and Writing being perhaps the closest to a traditional class. Some are recognizable but radical; Bargain, Exchange, and Liability is more or less contracts and torts taught at the same time so as to emphasize the similarities, differences, and blurring of the two, and while Democracy and Coercion is concerned with issues of constitutional law (collectivity v. self-determinacy), it's chock full of theoretical readings and organized around Kantian/Utilitarian poles. On the other hand, Legal Justice (sort of a history of American jurisprudential theory) has no real corollary to the traditional curriculum. Neither does Government Processes, a course that's concerned with (as far as I can yet tell) how society uses various legal instruments to deal with social problems; it draws on admin law, criminal law, environmental law, statutory analysis.

RJ McCaffery

Re: What are some Law Schools with radical, or "heterodox," programs of study?
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2006, 02:47:46 PM »
Thank you everyone for your comments.

Do you know how I could search for schools with good public interest and critical legal studies programs? What do you know about the University of Pittsburgh?

Erox, what do you think about Gibbsale and Reverendlex's remark that unlike in economics, heterodox ways of interpreting the subject of law is less important in a professional sense, and that it better falls under the heading of legal studies degree instead of JD?

If that is true, then should I better spend less time critiquing mainstream views on law and more time studying how to apply the law to help society?

I myself am interested in advocacy, however, I want to study from a radical perspective.

Please comment on their remarks, because it appears that your school does have a unique approach to legal studies.


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Re: What are some Law Schools with radical, or "heterodox," programs of study?
« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2006, 09:35:48 PM »
Well, because I haven't taken any traditional 1st year classes, it's hard to make a comparison. I can tell you what I know from my experience and from what I hear from the students in the traditional program...

Basically, all the section 3 profs are critical legal studies scholars....we learn all the same black-letter law, but the courses are structured so that you can discern the overarching themes in disparate areas of the law (across contracts/torts, for example) and how the mainstream legal approaches evolved over time. Also, none of the professors believe that bright-line rules are determinate, so you have to learn all the rules, the counter-rules, and be able to make arguments on either side. I think it will be helpful, but I guess it depends on what kind of work you do when you graduate. For me, the biggest benefit is that it is actually interesting...I really enjoy the work. I know I would not feel the same way if I were in a traditional curriculum.

Also, most people in the class are lefty and interested in social justice. It is a self-selecting group, so there are a lot of very interesting people with awesome pre-law school experience.

My profs said there are about a dozen schools that have alternative first year courses, but I don't know any details.

So, for me, I think the biggest benefit is that it is actually interesting and teaches you to be critical. I am going into developing world public sector reform, so the critical/comparitive perspective will be helpful for me. I don't think it can hurt in any way regardless of what you want to do, because we are learning all the same black-letter law as everyone else. The only downside is that we have an extra class and a ton more reading!

Re: What are some Law Schools with radical, or "heterodox," programs of study?
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2006, 08:14:53 AM »
Hey Erox,

I just got into G-town law school and I'd like to know more about Curriculum B.  I was a history/philosophy major in college.  I once took a class called "philosophy of law" which discussed various theories behind legal systems and I really enjoyed it.  Additionally, when my brother was in law school, I read his jurispudence books, explained them to him, and helped him study for his tests.  For all these reasons, I think curriculum B might be a good choice for me, but I'd like to know more about it.  Also, do I have to apply seperately for it, or is it my choice at this point, now that I've been accepted?   



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Re: What are some Law Schools with radical, or "heterodox," programs of study?
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2006, 06:11:16 PM »
You don't have to apply separately...once you accept enrollment, they send you a form where you indicate your preference for your first year curriculum. I think most/everyone who chose it got in. You can get more information on the GULC website...if you are really torn, you can make an appointment to speak to some of the professors or deans about it when you visit for the open house weekend. Andy Cornblatt and Dean Bailin are both really cool, and I am sure either would be happy to sit down with you and discuss the pros and cons.

I have taken four of my five exams, and I can say that for most of the classes, it was definitely worth it (there are some trade-offs though). Also, the people in our section are WAY more laid back than the people in the other sections around exam time. While I see a lot of competition amongst the other students, I feel like my classmates try and help eachother out more than anything. Apparently, this is common for section 3 students. Also, every single public interest/human rights project I have worked on has a majority of section 3 people. We also have a legal justice seminar that goes through about 10 different legal theories (process theory, critical race theory, feminist legal theory, etc) which was really interesting. It has a large lecture and a small discussion section of about 30 people. The other sections definitely don't have an equivalent of that and I am not sure that any of their classes are broken up into small discussions. So that is something to think about. I think, in general, you will have a huge advantage as a philosophy major.

There were a few people who switched out of section 3 the first week, so you can change your mind if you decide it's not for you. I would highly recommend giving it a try though. And Georgetown is an awesome school....congratulations!

Re: What are some Law Schools with radical, or "heterodox," programs of study?
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2006, 06:15:03 PM »
Thanks Erox,

That was helpful.  I'm planning on attending an open house at G-town, so I'll ask more questions, but at this point my mind is 99% made up.  If I got to G-town, curriculum B/Section 3 all the way!

I don't know much about heterodox programs, however, I do know a lot about heterobot 2000 programs. In case you're not familiar, it's law programs for futuristic robots. I enrolled last Fall and I must tell you that it's pretty competitive. You see, I'm one of the few non robotic students(NRS) which totally earned me a full ride and all but it's tough because these majority robotic types can memorize outlines in like one hour. A fifty page Tort outline can take a NRS like me up to three weeks, but a actual robot can word process the info lickity split. Fortunately for me, the law school allocates 20% of the law review spots for NRS's like me, therefore, I'm only competing against non robots like myself. Anyways, bepobebpobepo.