Dean's Blog - Curriculum Changes

Dean's Blog - Curriculum Changes

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Today, I want to highlight some changes in our first-year curriculum that will continue to define the Hamline Difference for our incoming law students next fall.

Let me begin by observing that there is nothing new about the need to bridge the gap between legal theory and practice.  Our focus on a practical skills-based curriculum-whether its through in-class instruction, legal clinics or practicuums-has been a feature of our law school for decades. 

What is new is the unsettled economy and how it is changing the market for legal services.  Now more than ever, employers are looking for more value-in terms of practical skills and experience-from law graduates entering the profession.

So Hamline is responding by reconfiguring its first-year curriculum, effective for the class entering this coming August 2010.  There are three features.

The first is a new first-year course entitled "Practice, Problem-Solving and Professionalism."  Already, the faculty is referring to it as "P-cubed."  This course will introduce first-year students to the role of lawyers in society and provide practical context to the application of the legal theory 1Ls learn in the core doctrinal courses.  This course will not involve case analysis, but will use a combination of lectures and interactive exercises to describe how legal problems arise and can be solved.  It will also provide a tempting introduction to Hamline's nationally-ranked ADR curriculum.  Perhaps unlike most first-year courses, P-cubed will be designed to inspire and excite 1Ls about legal practice.

The second feature is the new requirement that first-year students take a course in international and comparative law in their second semester.  The 21st Century lawyer operates in a global milieu, and it is important that our law students understand that most of the world regulates itself differently, and in some respects better, than the American legal system. The international law course will provide an excellent opportunity to introduce basic concepts such as natural law and territoriality.  It will also reinforce the law school's commitment to ensure that Hamline law students are culturally competent in an increasingly multicultural society.

The third feature is the expansion of our legal writing program into a third semester in the fall of 2011.  The additional semester will enable us to reinforce good writing skills, which legal employers still tell us are in high demand and short supply.  A third semester will also allow us to focus more attention on such critical areas as motion practice, ADR and problem-solving, transaction work, and professionalism and ethics.  I firmly believe that our full-time legal research and writing faculty provides the best program in the Upper Midwest.  This expansion will make it even stronger.

So, why are these changes so important?  Let me answer by quoting an e-mail I received from a recent Hamline law grad in response to my blog a month ago about associates in big city law firms.  This grad had recently been laid off from his government job in Arizona and decided to hang up his own shingle.  He is now representing an individual suing a big retailer, and explained in his e-mail why he was not intimidated by the big firm partner who was on the other side of the table.  This Hamline grad wrote (and I quote):

I'm not scared at all.  Why?  Because between what I learned in research/writing & having professor Morrow for trial ad, I know I have what it takes to win.  Moreover, the skills that I developed in Mediation & Negotiation (Professor Fox) have come in extremely handy for the pre-trial issues.

So yes, I graduated from a low tiered law school that no one out west has heard of.  I'm not making 6 figures working in a big firm.  The economy sucks and there are no jobs.  Sure, I'm learning lots of things by being thrown into the fire.  Truth be told, I wouldn't have it any other way.  Hamline gave me the tools and skills I need to be successful.  While my peers in BigLaw are spending 100 hours a week in a dank room looking over a 50 page brief for typos, I'm getting real experience.

That is the spirit that underlies our new first-year curriculum.  Our goal always is to give you the skills to put wisdom and sound judgment to practice in the marketplace, and to do so with confidence.  That is the Hamline Difference.

See ya' next time.


Posted by Tom Wurdock at 08/26/2010 08:31:56 PM