Responding to criticism that law schools aren’t doing enough to prepare graduates for employment, New York University School of Law has decided to bolster its third-year offerings with enhanced opportunities to study abroad, practice area-specific tracks and a new government law clinic.

Dean Richard Revesz, who announced the plans to students yesterday, said in an interview that the changes would make students “better lawyers and better able to succeed as lawyers.”

NYU Law yesterday announced enhanced programs for its third-year students. On the panel, from left, are Melody Barnes, NYU vice provost for global student leadership initiatives; Evan Chesler, presiding partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Dean Rickey Revesz; Vice Dean Kevin Davis; and Sally Katzen, a visiting professor and senior adviser at the Podesta Group. NYLJ/Rick Kopstein

Students expressed mixed feelings, reacting with enthusiasm but wondering whether the offers could directly impact their employment prospects.

The foreign programs will be located in Buenos Aires, Paris and Shanghai for students’ final semester. Each program can accommodate 25 students starting in spring 2014. They will get language training and work on internships with firms, NGOs and other organizations.

NYU will work with law schools in Buenos Aires and Paris and will operate the Shanghai program through the university’s Shanghai campus. The programs are awaiting approval from the American Bar Association.

The voluntary practice-area tracks would guide students to a speciality, such as intellectual property, litigation and dispute resolution, and criminal law. Students will take either a clinic or business transactional class and complete a capstone project, including an internship and research paper.

For expertise on U.S. legislative and regulatory processes, the school is adding a government law clinic in the next school year in which interested students can spend third-year semesters in Washington, D.C., for classroom study and work in a government agency.

The school also is planning to expand training on business and financial concepts in a first-year required class and will create a new elective class in the upper years to introduce concepts in business, statistics, accounting and quantitative analysis.

Revesz said the specialty tracks would not eliminate any required classes. Rather, students will have the option of taking certain electives in each of the tracks.

The program was developed with the help of a strategy committee made up largely of NYU graduates who considered the best use of the third year of law school, which is often criticized as a waste of time and money.

Evan Chesler, presiding partner at Cravath Swaine & Moore and chair of the committee, said that while NYU already offers students many opportunities, “the feeling was that it could be improved in ways that more directly address the needs of the legal profession in the current environment.”

He said the school’s new study-abroad programs are “really immersion in the legal systems, legal philosophy and societies you’re going to be dealing with as a 21st-century lawyer.”

Student Reaction

At the event yesterday where the programs were announced, many students said that they were impressed and excited by the opportunities.

But Eric Messenger, a 2L from Newton, Mass., said in an interview there is some skepticism that the changes wouldn’t directly help with job offers because law firm employment is often determined before the third year.

“It’s not going to address the big pressing issues,” he said, but added he is enthusiastic the school is acting to give students more opportunity.

Julian Ginos, a 2L from Brooklyn, said that “all the important decisions are made after your first year” through grades and interviews with prospective employers.

“It might improve prospects of very qualified people, but I don’t see how it will trickle down to the majority of students,” Ginos said.

Another 2L student, who declined to give his name, said that due to the limited number of slots to study abroad and in Washington, the new opportunities may impact less than one-fifth of a 450-student class size.

One student asked the law school’s leaders if they had thought about ways to reduce or freeze costs as part of the new initiatives.

Chesler responded that pressures from student loans are “a significant problem” that NYU intends to review. He added that he was a partner at Cravath by the time he made his last student loan payment.

Revesz said in an interview that tuition costs will not increase as a result of the changes. NYU Law’s tuition, among the priciest in the nation, is about $51,000 for the 2012-2013 year.

Another student asked if there was any concern that students struggling to find jobs, possibly due to lower grades, may not benefit from the new initiatives if availability for the slots is low and the school is selective.

Sally Katzen, former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and an NYU visiting professor who will run the government law clinic, said the school will select students who have shown interest and motivation.

‘National Trend’

Other law schools weighed in on the changes, pointing out that NYU has some company among schools introducing new programs for hands-on student experience.

“In my view the changes are positive but not unique,” said Anthony Crowell, dean of New York Law School. He said his school is preparing to add 10 new clinics, additional experience learning programs and opportunities for night students. These new initiatives, pending faculty approval, could start next year, he said.

Avery Katz, Columbia Law School’s vice dean for curriculum, said top law schools have been attempting for some years to redesign and update their curriculum to respond to new practice and economic developments.

“This is a nationwide trend,” he said.

Katz said Columbia in recent years has developed several global alliances with law schools in other countries and began offering a joint three-year J.D./MBA program.

Some educators and consultants say more curriculum changes are needed.

Susan Hackett, former general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel and currently CEO of Legal Executive Leadership, said NYU Law’s leaders “are clearly taking steps in the right direction but they are first steps.” She has recommended more first- and second-year changes.

Carey Dunne, president of the New York City Bar, applauded NYU Law’s changes as much needed innovation, adding that there’s still “a lot of things that need to be done to address this current imbalance between supply and demand.”

“Innovations like this will catch on especially if they’re led by schools like NYU and I think a lot of other schools will be watching to see how it takes off,” said Dunne, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell.