Thursday, April 3, 2008

Int'l Law and Curricular Reform in the U.S. Legal Academy

The innovative curricular reforms at Washington & Lee (described in detail here) have generated some controversy among legal academics in the U.S. The reforms, which transform the third-year of legal study into a curriculum consisting of courses in which there is an emphasis on learning in real-life legal settings, reflect an emerging consensus regarding what is currently lacking in legal education. (Read more of the critique of traditional legal education in the summary of the Carnegie Report here) (pictured at left) Many commentators applaud W&L’s bold reform efforts. Some, however, have leveled critiques that suggest a lack of information about both the reform process and the substantive outcome. In one such post by Roger Alford, on Opinio Juris (here), Alford concludes that electives focusing on international law will inevitably suffer under the new third-year curriculum. What Alford fails to realize, however, is that: (1) W&L is in the process of instituting a mandatory transnational law course in the first year of law school; and (2) many of the third-year practica will include an international or comparative perspective. If the W&L faculty votes to require transnational law in the first year, all students will be exposed to transnational law, allowing for richer, deeper exploration of international law in subsequent years. In addition, several of the practicum courses now slated for the new third-year curriculum focus on international law. Students in the climate change practicum, the international law practicum, or the international human rights practicum, for example, will explore relevant issues in greater depth and with an emphasis on the practical application of international legal theory. In this year alone, W&L has hired four new internationalists to complement the well-respected international faculty who are already there (Mark Drumbl, Rick Kirgis). In the spirit of full disclosure, I am one of the four new internationalists (along with intlawgrrl, Hari Osofsky, Susan Franck, and Russ Miller). At W&L, there is a great deal of institutional support both for teaching and scholarship that focuses on international law and for re-envisioning the law school experience. What do others think of the law school reform movement?


Marjorie Florestal said...

At McGeorge, we have spent the last 3 years reinvisioning our curriculum. I don't think we will have a program like W&L's anytime soon, but the school has an excellent international program and we are committed to globalizing the curriculm by exposing students to international law as early (and often) as possible. I love the idea of a first year transnational course, but that hasn't gained traction. Perhaps it is to the good b/c our current approach forces students to see how international law plays out throughout the curriculum (intl issues are sprinkled in first year core courses, and we have a dizzying array of electives for the truly committed). Curricula reform is a difficult process (I've discovered now that I'm on the curriculum committee) that calls forth some deeply held notions of what constitutes a good legal education. But this is a process long overdue--we can't keep teaching as Langdell envisioned without any innovations. The world is too drastically transformed for that. I'm glad to see so many lawschools taking the bull by the horns!

Johanna E. Bond said...


It's great to hear about what's happening at McGeorge and to see that iterations of this conversation are occurring at a number of schools across the country. And I think you're right that the conversations are long overdue.