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Law schools nationwide are tweaking their curriculums to solve a growing and nagging problem that has surfaced on many campuses: second- and third-year students becoming disengaged. “I think a lot of students vote with their feet in the third year [of] law school � they disappear . . . .I think what the students are really telling us is [that] we’re not doing as good a job in the second and third year,” said Dickey Walter, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin Law School. The Wisconsin law school is one of many schools that are devoting much energy to reviving their curriculums with new clinics, new electives and, in some cases, new requirements. The schools have a twofold goal in mind: Keep students from losing interest, and prepare students better for a constantly changing legal profession. For example, starting this fall, the University of Wisconsin Law School will offer second- and third-year students a host of new clinics, including a legal assistance clinic for parole violators. Another clinic focuses on helping women secure restraining orders. A third puts law students into poor communities to help entrepreneurs set up new businesses. There’s also a change in the curriculum for first-year students, who, starting this school year, will be able to take international law as an elective. Curriculum changes are also under way at the nation’s top law schools, including Harvard Law School, Northwestern University School of Law, the University of Michigan Law School and Stanford Law School. “We are concentrating our energies on the second and third years, where we know we are failing the students,” said Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer. “It seems to us a mistake to fix the one part that’s not really broken. The first year does a great job teaching students the core skill of thinking like a lawyer.” Currently, Stanford is in the process of rolling out joint-degree programs and 12 cross-disciplinary courses, allowing law students to pursue joint degrees and take classes outside the law school. Stanford also is working to create more multidisciplinary, team-oriented, problem-solving courses, such as a new expert witness course launched this year with students from the sciences, or the new clinical course that combines law students with medical students to address patients’ full needs in both domains. Kramer believes that law schools need to focus their curriculums on areas where they are failing students, such as critical lawyering skills, problem-solving skills, how to think like clients and understand what they do as well as the law that regulates it, how to work in teams, and “how to take the concepts and methods we teach in classes and use them in a messy real world context.” Harvard Law School, meanwhile, has taken a different approach with curriculum changes by focusing on first-year students. Earlier this year, Harvard announced the most sweeping changes to its first-year curriculum in 100 years, requiring first-year students to take three new courses, including a class on legislation and regulation, another covering global legal systems and a third focusing on problems and theories. Harvard officials have said that they modified the first-year curriculum because of the “imprint” that the initial year of study has on law students. Skills relevant to practicing law During the summer, as part of an effort to enhance its curriculum, Northwestern University School of Law held focus groups with managing partners at law firms around the country, asking them what competencies students need to have in order to be successful lawyers at the start and middle of their careers. Some answers? More project manager and leadership skills, more teamwork skills and a focus on understanding legal strategy. “We’re trying to introduce more teamwork into the curriculum because that’s the way law is practiced now,” said David Van Zandt, dean at Northwestern. “For years, we simply relied on students being very smart, and then we basically gave them academic training and then threw them out,” Van Zandt said. “And that actually worked when law firms wanted just very smart kids whom they could mold and train. But today, with the low retention rate at firms, with the increased competition in the marketplace, employers need to have people who can do more.” That has prompted Northwestern to offer more courses in basic accounting, finance, business strategy and managing a project effectively. This year, Northwestern is introducing a mandatory “portal” program for first- year students, which is a series of modules that gives students basic quantitative skills, like basic accounting, finance, ethics training and technology. Clinics at Northwestern have expanded this year to include a landlord-tenant law clinic, an investor protection center and international team projects, which let students travel to a country with a faculty member and research a particular legal subject. Acting globally International law, meanwhile, is gaining momentum at many law schools. “The global economy is becoming more interconnected, so thinking how to teach comparative and international law becomes more and more important every year,” said Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer. Schizer said Columbia has an ongoing strategic initiative to build up its international law department, which has included hiring a record seven new faculty members during the last year. This year, they will teach new courses in national security, terrorism and international trademark law. A new elective being offered this year for first-year students is how lawyers make arguments. A new elective for second- and third-year students is a course in civil rights advocacy, in which Columbia partners with civil rights groups. At the University of Michigan Law School, no major curriculum changes have taken place, but new classes have been added this year. The school boasts a first-of-its-kind Chinese legal history course, a national security law course and an appellate advocacy course that teaches the art of the brief. “A student coming through law school here will always have several new offerings,” said David Baum, assistant dean for student affairs at Michigan. Syracuse’s holistic approach Syracuse University College of Law, meanwhile, has taken a holistic approach to its curriculum this year, adding courses that focus on the connection between wellness and professional success. Syracuse has developed a new office known as “Student Life,” which offers a required first-year law course called the law success program. The school provides leadership training and health counseling, and it teaches time/stress management skills. “Law students are not like automobiles that we take to the gas station and occasionally fill up with gas,” said Robin Paul Malloy, vice dean and law professor at Syracuse. “Law students should not just be thought of as coming to law school to fill up their brains. While this needs to happen, a strong and responsive curriculum has to simultaneously address the full person.”

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