Law School pioneers new curriculum

Feb. 21, 2012, 3:00 a.m.

Stanford Law School (SLS) announced last week the completion of a five-year comprehensive reform to its second- and third-year law curriculum. The new multidimensional Juris Doctorate program incorporates a more interdisciplinary approach while emphasizing team-oriented problem-solving techniques and expanded hands-on clinical training.


The new curriculum will allow students to tailor their own joint degree programs in almost any discipline while expanding the international dimension of the program to integrate international business, national security and trade and tax law into the traditional curriculum. The school has added a new program, International Economic Law, to accommodate the needs of international students and those who plan to practice abroad. International students now make up 15 percent of the upper-level (second and third year) Law School student body, according to a Law School press release.


Michael Gisser J.D. ‘82, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Meagher and Flom LLP and an international mergers and acquisition specialist, reacted positively to the changes.


“Today’s global practice typically involves multiple national jurisdictions — often five or more — in a single transaction,” Gisser said. “It’s exciting to see a U.S. law school respond to the global challenges in contemporary law practice.”


“From the perspective of international practice, this is a game-changing set of innovations,” Gisser added. “The cross-border emphasis runs through coursework, interdepartmental cooperation and clinical programs. One cannot overstate the importance of these changes: This means that Stanford Law School is uniquely set up in a ground-up way to enable students to become the leaders on a worldwide platform.”


SLS also expanded its clinical education program, adding an in-house clinic operating as a single law firm: the Mills Legal Clinic. A clinical rotation-based system was introduced — based on medical school models — allowing second- and third-year students to learn without exams or courses. Sixty-five percent of second- and third-year students chose to enroll in a clinic in 2010, according to the Law School press release.


Gabe Ledeen J.D. ‘12, who served as a Marine Corps officer for four years before matriculating to Stanford Law School, provided feedback on the legal clinic curriculum.


“Being in Iraq and seeing what a country was like in a society without the rule of law gave me a deep appreciation for and hunger to understand our own system of laws and how they affect society,” Ledeen said.


He referenced his experience working at the Stanford Criminal Prosecution Clinic, run by Professor George Fisher J.D. ‘67 at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office in San Jose, as a positive example of the school’s emphasis on real-world training.


We  “are each assigned a primary supervisor who assigns us cases,” Ledeen said. “We write briefs, and argue cases, though not in front of juries.”


“There are only six students in the clinic and it’s a very unique opportunity,” he added. “I don’t know of any schools that do this.”


Ledeen said the key benefit of the clinic for him was exposure to legal practice.


“Without this clinic there is no way I could have gotten this kind of experience…to actually see and experience what prosecutors do,” he said.


“The problem of law schools is getting students exposed to the practice of law and helping them to determine what areas they are interested in pursuing as a career,” Ledeen added. “This clinic gives us the opportunity to see what prosecution work is like, what skills are involved and what the lifestyle is, and that has been invaluable.”


Ledeen added that a second key benefit of his clinical experience was exposure to substantive areas of the law, which helps law students develop a “much deeper understanding of our criminal justice system than [one] could possibly get by just sitting in a classroom.”


Noting the course prerequisites in evidence and criminal procedures that law students must take before enrolling in the clinic, Ledeen commented, “We actually have taken classes that are relevant and prepared us for the substantive legal material that we have to work with in the clinic. All of us are well prepared.”


Ledeen reflected on the opportunities Stanford offers its range of law students as a draw for him in the application process.


“One of the big draws of Stanford was the possibilities that it afforded,” Ledeen said. “What’s great about the changes and this curriculum is that it recognizes that all law students aren’t created equal…We have different interests, different skills, [and] different backgrounds. This curriculum and the options that it provides give us flexibility to identify what we’re interested in and to pursue them even if they aren’t traditional.”


Ledeen noted that the new curriculum is based in “Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurial culture here. The law school is very much tied in to that. That’s a big part of why that curriculum works so well here.”


Other changes implemented as part of the curricular reforms include enlarged and modified student and faculty research opportunities through the launch of a dozen new research centers and programs in areas such as constitutional and criminal law, energy and corporate governance. For example, law students have recently worked on implementing California’s Public Safely Realignment Act.


Additionally, law students now have the opportunity to gain direct experience studying and working in global settings. Stanford students have worked in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Timor Leste, Iraq and other locations pursuing externships, summer jobs and student exchange programs in topics such as law and development.


To assist students in choosing curricular and career paths, the Law School created online proprietary tools and a website to facilitate social and professional networking and mentoring.


The Law School’s five-year initiative coincided with a University-wide five-year fundraising campaign, the Stanford Challenge, which has enabled the Law School to finance curricular and infrastructure changes. Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer spearheaded the implementation of the reforms.

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