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Students at Stanford University don’t have to become a lawyer to think like one. The school has launched a course for non-law school students entitled, “Thinking Like a Lawyer,” taught by the law school’s dean and 11 other law school faculty members. The experimental course is designed to give graduate students in business, science and humanities a taste of legal reasoning and an overview of the basic doctrines of law. “I hope they come away with something of a feel for the way in which lawyers think through a problem,” said Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer. About 60 students are enrolled in the pass-fail course, including a few who are auditing it. The course started Sept. 25 and lasts 12 weeks. Some of the topics covered include differences in legal forums, procedural rules and the reading of precedent. The course also covers fundamental principles of tort, contract, criminal, constitutional, bankruptcy and corporate law. AN EVOLVING IDEA Thinking like a lawyer means different things to different people, said Kenneth Vandevelde, author of “Thinking Like a Lawyer: An Introduction to Legal Reasoning,” and law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. For laypeople, “thinking like a lawyer” can mean hairsplitting and a fixation on technicalities. “I think it’s a sort of caricature of it,” he said. “It’s just one part of legal reasoning.” The concept of thinking like a lawyer has evolved, Vandevelde said. For example, it takes into account issues of race and gender much more so than it did 30 years ago. For Sarah Redfield, author of “Thinking Like a Lawyer: An Educator’s Guide to Legal Analysis and Research,” the concept has its origin in the Socratic method of teaching, where students are required to analyze different layers of fact patterns. Redfield also is a professor at Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H. The way of thinking also has taken on some negative connotations, Redfield said. Some view it as lacking emotional intelligence, a black-and-white approach to solving problems. “There are other things that we all consider in life besides the critical analysis. We consider, ‘Is this a just result? Is this a fair result?’” she said. Whatever the definition, Stanford students will have a chance to prove their understanding of it in the three five-page papers they are required to write for the course. The final day of class is Dec. 7. Leigh Jones is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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