FedSoc Blog

Are Odd Third-Year-Law-School Electives a Waste?


by Publius
Posted December 17, 2012, 9:34 AM

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Students taking Charles Halpern's class at the University of California, Berkeley, start with the ancient Chinese practice of Qi Gong. Standing in the university grounds under towering redwoods and breathing deeply, they are earning credits toward their law degree.

At Stanford University Law School, students keen on the emerging area of self-driving cars can now take "Legal Aspects of Autonomous Driving." Harvard Law School students with political aspirations have the option of a one-credit course this spring called "Understanding Obama," taught by one of the president's former professors, Charles Ogletree.

Amid weak demand for legal services and an oversupply of lawyers, law schools are emphasizing courses and clinics designed to give their graduates a chance to do hands-on lawyering before they enter the job market. But even as law schools labor to produce "practice ready" graduates, they have held tight to their more peculiar courses, usually taken in the third year. . . .

. . . with tuition increasing, some critics of legal education have advocated abolishing the third year entirely, and presumably with it, classes that are considered unessential. Others have preached abstinence.

In a visit this fall to the University of Wyoming, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia urged students to avoid "frill" courses whose titles begin with "Law and..."

"Professors like certain subjects that they're writing a book on, so they teach a course in that subject," Justice Scalia said.

His colleague on the court, Chief Justice John Roberts, meanwhile, has poked fun at legal academia's fascination with the arcane.

"Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I'm sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn't of much help to the bar," he said in a speech at a judicial conference last year.


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