Everyone is taking potshots at law schools these days, it seems. Top-tier schools are lumped together with their lower-tier compatriots and told their courses aren't relevant to today's world. Critics also assert that a J.D. degree is too expensive and takes too long to get.
The criticism became especially heated during the worst days of the economic collapse a few years ago, when suddenly there were far too few jobs for recent J.D. graduates.
Now the economic picture has brightened a bit, but large law firms are still tightening their belts, in response to greater global competition and other changes in the profession.
Criticizing law school curriculums is nothing new, as can be seen in the quotation above from renowned legal scholar Professor Rudolf Schlesinger, who defended the Law School against critics forty-six years ago (he taught from 1948 through 1975).
But can we learn something from the critics?
No to their superficial complaints that make contradictory demands such as increasing more-costly skills training but cutting tuition at the same time.
But yes to their call to adapt to changing times—so long as we keep the balance that Schlesinger advocated, says Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. There still "needs to be a balance of theory, doctrine, and skills training in the curriculum," he concurs. "We also need to remain focused on the core goal of our curriculum, which is teaching superb analytical thinking."
Schwab disparages such current jargon as training students to be "practice-ready" so they can " hit the ground running." Instead, he says: "We're taking the long view at the Law School, aiming to make our students profession-ready. We're training lawyers not for the short term but for thirty- to fifty-year careers."
While some law schools have been patting themselves on the back for curriculum changes they plan to make soon, Cornell Law School has been quietly adding, over many years, to skills training and other innovative courses it teaches, he notes, as well as to its faculty and programs.
"We made a conscious decision a decade ago to increase the size of the faculty," says the dean. The number of permanent tenure-track faculty at the Law School rose from thirty-four to forty-two during that time, he says, plus eleven clinical and lawyering faculty members, and "we hope to add two more. This is allowing us to offer a greater variety of courses." Indeed, the school has added 107 new ones since 2010, he notes, many of them clinics, where students learn by taking on actual cases and clients. "Our strategy is to evolve in a stable and measured way to respond to change in the legal environment," the dean says. "We're moving forward in ways that make sense for us, given our size and what we are all about."
As part of that strategy, the Law School has developed a smorgasbord of choices for students contemplating how to enhance their knowledge base during their time at the Law School, especially the third year.
Schwab gave a presentation at the Law School's Reunion Weekend in June 2013 on the changing curriculum, during which he referenced an old adage: "First year, scare you to death; second year, work you to death; third year, bore you to death," then asserted that a "boring" third year was simply not true at Cornell Law School.
The adage also was cited by Daniel Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern University School of Law, in an opinion piece in the New York Times in January considering the rule change under review by New York State Bar Association members to eliminate the third year of law school as a requirement to practice law in the state.
Rodriguez called for law schools to overthrow the boring third year perception by designing "creative curriculums that law students would want to pursue—a third-year program of advanced training that would allow those who wished it to become more effective litigators, specialize or better prepare for the real-world legal challenges that lie ahead."
"That is exactly what Cornell Law School has been doing for the past decade if not longer," says Schwab, who also believes that eliminating the third year of legal study before getting certified to practice law would be a mistake.
LEARNING FROM REAL-WORLD PRACTITIONERS
Some of the changes at the Law School involve bringing more real-world practitioners into the classroom. One example, brand new this fall, is Private Equity Playbook, a course developed and taught by Distinguished Practitioner in Residence Franci Blassberg '77, chair of the Law School's Advisory Council who practiced for more than twenty-five years at Debevoise & Plimpton, and developed and co-chaired its private equity practice.
In addition, the Law School now offers about a dozen transactional courses that focus on complex deal structuring, as noted in an article about them in the spring 2013 issue of Cornell Law Forum.
Many feature adjunct instructors who are deals practitioners with a wealth of experience. "Those courses are attracting overwhelming interest among students," says Professor Charles Whitehead, who also co-teaches a primary lecture course on transactional lawyering known simply as Deals, with Raymond Minella '74, executive director of the school's Clarke Business Law Institute and former vice chairman of Jefferies & Company.
"The courses we offer today cover a breadth of transactional work at a level that law schools in general did not offer ten years ago," notes Whitehead.
The rationale: "To help students become familiar with the issues transactional lawyers face, the tools typically used to address them, and the basic structure of complex transactions," Whitehead says. "It's very much a part of what a young lawyer needs to start off on the right foot."
In the first part of the Deals course, students learn concepts and tools to evaluate alternative transactional structures, he explains. In the second they apply them to real-world deals.
Teams are each assigned a different deal and given a set of trans- action documents, says Whitehead. They analyze their deals and present on them in class. In a follow-up class, "the lawyers who actually did the deals explain what was going on," he says.
The Law School also runs a Transactional Lawyering Com- petition—"a sort of moot court for deal lawyers, and the only intramural law school competition of its kind in the country," notes Whitehead.
In the competition, student teams represent a hypothetical buyer or seller in an asset sale. "They are judged by experienced transactional lawyers—many of them Law School alumni—based on student markups of modified sales contracts and each team's ability to negotiate effectively on behalf of its client," Whitehead explains.
"Professor Whitehead's classes help you understand the inter-section between business and law," says Kyle Doppelt, J.D./M.B.A. '12, now an investment analyst with a large hedge fund, who took four of Whitehead's courses at the Law School. "He taught us how to think like true deal lawyers, see the big picture, and advance the client's business interests intelligently," Doppelt said. "In the Deals course it was especially helpful to get real live feedback from dealmakers who were among the best in their field."
Why are such programs important?
"By studying cases, most law students become familiar with how judges—very often, appellate judges—analyze and determine the issues before them," observes Whitehead. "But, to the extent that the case involves a deal, it is often a failed deal. Such deals comprise only a small fraction of the transactions that get done," he says. "To balance the case law approach, it also makes sense to teach students how effective deals are structured and executed."
More than half the Law School's students take at least one clinic before they graduate. One reason: "Clinics give students the opportunity to work with real clients and be faced with real legal problems," says Professor John Blume, director of Clinical, Advocacy and Skills Programs, who also runs the Cornell Death Penalty Project.
"Our eleven active clinics and related programs, which are done under the supervision and mentoring of experienced faculty, add a different dimension to a legal education," he says.
"Employers consider clinical experience important," notes Karen Comstock, assistant dean for public service at the Law School. "It goes on the experience side of students' résumés, and we encourage them to take as many clinics as possible." Last year, the Law School launched a new Juvenile Justice Clinic, and this academic year the school is relaunching the Legal Aid Clinic to provide civil legal services to Tompkins County, New York Residents.
Part of the business law curriculum, the SECURITIES LAW CLINIC was first offered in January 2008. In it, ″ students take on actual cases under the supervision of Professor William Jacobson, who directs the clinic and begins the first semester (it is offered for three) with an overview of securities law.
"The idea behind the clinic is to give students the experience of what a real lawyer would be doing," Jacobson says. "So, just like a real law firm, we have clients, typically because the case was too small for large law firms to take on."
Students get to interview the clients, review documents, and draft papers, he says. "They may encounter clients facing emotional issues or who just don't know what went wrong, or witnesses who don't recall things correctly. All of that is like real-life law practice. The only difference is here students are under closer supervision than they would be in a large law firm.
"If they file and go to a full hearing, they give opening and closing statements and do cross-examination," Jacobson says. "That's an experience they might not get in a law firm for many years."
In addition, students often submit comments on proposed rule changes, publish papers in bar journals, and give public talks to seniors about how to avoid getting taken to the cleaners by perpetrators of securities fraud.
One of the school's newest clinics is the ADVOCACY FOR LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) COMMUNITIES CLINIC, taught by Professor Susan Hazeldean and offered for the first time in 2012.
"I wanted to teach the clinic to give students the opportunity to be involved in the struggle for equality and civil rights for marginalized groups within the LGBT community, particularly individuals who are facing discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in central New York, where I thought there was a real need for this kind of work," she says.
Students in the clinic have helped, among others: a client facing deportation to a country where he would have likely been persecuted or killed because of his sexual orientation; same-sex couples seeking equal recognition of their relationships with their children; and a transgender client incarcerated in a men's prison who faced sexual violence and lack of gender-related medical care there.
One student who successfully defended the client facing deportation, and won him asylum in the United States, was Jonathan Castellanos '14. "Participating in the clinic was the most reward- ing experience I've had throughout college and law school," he says. "It gave me a glimpse of the impact I could have with my degree as well as the tools I need to become an effective advocate."
Stephanie Maron '13, who helped the incarcerated transgender client, says the LGBT advocacy clinic "made me and my fellow classmates aware of countless . . . issues [of inequality] in our society that we never knew existed." The firm she is now working for has a pro bono program in which associates assist LGBT clients who lack financial resources. When she volunteers for it, her experience in the Law School clinic will serve her well, she says. n
"Clinics are an effective way to teach labor law," says ″ Professor Angela Cornell, who developed and runs ″ the LABOR LAW CLINIC at the Law School. "They can enhance and build on what students learn in the classroom and expose them to complex workplace issues that are difficult to replicate in a classroom setting. The course also gives students an opportunity to lend a hand to workers who have significant legal needs," she said.
Clinic students are involved with a broad range of labor and employment issues, both domestic and international, says Cornell. "On the domestic labor law front, if a worker under a collective agreement has been terminated unjustly, students can take the case to a neutral arbitrator," she says. "It is a full evidentiary hearing in which students present evidence, examine witnesses, and write a post-arbitration brief. Those are skills that are fully transferable no matter what type of law students go on to practice."
Over the last few years, the clinic has succeeded in getting workers reinstated with back pay, she says.
The Labor Law Clinic was one of the most valuable components of my law school experience," said Michael Berger '06
. "I had the unique opportunity of representing a labor union in an arbitration and taking the case from start to finish. The skills, knowledge, and insight I developed served me well in my first job, at the National Labor Relations Board, and I continue to use them in my current job with the Directors Guild of America."
Students in the clinic also take cases before administrative agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "That direct exposure to the administrative process is valuable for students," Cornell says.
International labor law, another piece of the clinc's work, "can add real depth to the learning experience because it gives students a sense of the issues that may surface in our interconnected global economy," Cornell says. Clinic students have gone to Central and South America to help advance the interests of low-wage textile workers, most of them young women, and have partnerned with students in the Human Rights Clinic to fight sexual harassment of women doing similar work in India.
LAW SCHOOL CLINICS AND RELATED PROJECTS
Advocacy for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Communities
See description in this story.
Capital Punishment: Post-Conviction Litigation Clinic
Students represent death row inmates primarily in southern U.S. states. They read and research legal issues, assist in investigations, travel to interview clients, strategize the cases, and draft pleadings and briefs.
Child Advocacy Clinic
Students represent children (and in some cases, parents) in Family Court in Tompkins County and surrounding areas. They learn the applicable law and share their insights and experiences with one another.
Criminal Defense Trial Clinic
Students represent indigent individuals charged with misdemeanors or non- criminal violations in local Tompkins County courts. They research cases, discuss them in class, and appear in court on behalf of clients.
DREAMer Pro Bono Project
Help young people who grew up in the United States but lack legal immigrant documentation by assisting them with their applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
Students engage in both theoretical development and practical application of principals of public law, deliberative democracy, conflict resolution, and collaborative decision-making in the context of web-enabled rulemaking, regulatory review, and strategic planning.
Immigration Appellate Law and Advocacy Clinic
Under the supervision of clinic directors, students represent immigrants fleeing persecution in their appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). They review hearings transcripts, interview clients, develop factual and legal theory, and write appeal briefs to the BIA.
International Human Rights Clinic
Students work on a wide array of human rights projects, which can range from: developing training materials for foreign judges; to filing briefs before U.S. and international courts; to conducting international field research to strengthen the rule of law and legal processes in different parts of the world.
Juvenile Justice Clinic
Students assist in the representation of juveniles sentenced to life without parole.
Labor Law Clinic
See description in this story.
Legal Aid Clinic
Students assist the oldest of the Law School's clinics, which has been providing civil legal services to low-income clients in Tompkins County since the early 1970s.
Securities Law Clinic
See description in this story.
U.S. Attorney's Office Clinic
Students assist in federal criminal prosecutions and the defense of federal agencies and employees in civil cases, for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of New York.
Another relatively new approach to legal learning is to send law students out into the field of law practice via supervised externships designed to fit their individual areas of interest.
Close to fifty students a year now do externships, usually in their fourth, fifth, or sixth semester, and get credit for it.
"Externships often help students determine if they want to go into a particular area of legal practice," says Professor Glenn Galbreath, who directs the program, reviews the credentials of each placement and supervisor, has multiple contacts with the students each week, and observes each one on-site at least once a semester. "Externships are also a great way for students to put themselves into a good position to get a job, either right out of law school or down the road," he says.
Angela Chang '13
did a semester externship with Nina Totenberg
, who covers legal affairs for National Public Radio.
"It was a dream come true and one of the highlights of my Law School experience," Chang says. "I got to view members of the Supreme Court and people like Paul Clement, former United States Solicitor General, in action and get a sense of what it's like to practice appellate law, which is what I hope to do." She also got to meet and talk with top legal reporters—Adam Liptak of the New York Times, Bob Barnes of the Washington Post, and Totenberg, whom Chang called the "dean of the press corps."
"Law School courses are great," Chang says, "but there are some things you can only learn outside of the classroom."
Below are descriptions of other recent externships:
Ian Brekke '13
externed at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where he worked on cases involving defendants from the former Yugoslavia.
Aaron Frazier '13 externed with the Rochester, New Yorkdistrict attorney's office, where he appeared in court frequently and did virtual deadly force training with the city's police department.
Daniel Gwen '13
externed at Marvel Comics, where he did contract and trademark enforcement work under the watchful images of Superhero icons Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk.
Andrew Levine '13
worked for the Los Angeles district attorney's office on cases involving hard-core gang members. He said it cemented his decision to enter defense work after graduation.
Karina Pulec '13
worked for the Wikipedia Foundation on intellectual property and other corporate law issues. She got to travel overseas on foundation business. The Law School's programs, institutes, and journals also offer opportunities for specialized and skills-based training. Some examples:
Working on the staff of: Cornell Law Review, International Law Journal, Journal of Law and Public Policy, and the Legal Infor-mation Institute's LII Supreme Court Bulletin. Some journals sponsor significant conferences. The LII Supreme Court Bulletin has 16,000 subscribers and is published in Federal Lawyer.
Working with CeRI (Cornell e-Rulemaking Initiative) researchers to encourage public participation in the rulemaking process as part of the e-Government Clinic.
Conducting field research and compiling reports for the Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice,generally under the aegis of the school's International Human Rights Clinic. Working with the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture on the Meridian 180 transpacific think tank and multilingual online platform.
LEARNING LAWYERING SKILLS
All first-year law students take a Lawyering course on legal writing, research, oral communications, and other skills essential to anyone practicing law today.
"Six professors teach the course, along with an outstanding group of law librarians," says Professor Joel Atlas
, who directs the Lawyering Program. "All the Lawyering professors have longtime practice experience as lawyers, and we've drawn on that experience to enable students to excel in these areas when they enter the legal profession."
In the Lawyering course, students learn how to write legal documents, read and analyze statutes and cases, conduct legal research, interview and counsel clients, and make strong oral presentations. "We stay in touch with current trends in law practices and adapt our teaching to them. For example, law offices have begun to ely more heavily on e-mail communication of legal advice, and so we now teach students how to compose effective e-mails in a legal context," Atlas says.
Brian Hogue '12, a former student of Atlas's, says: "I attribute my getting the editor-in-chief position at Cornell Law Review in part to the skills I learned in the Lawyering program and the encouragement I got from Professor Atlas, who helped me achieve the kind of quality work you're expected to do as a lawyer."
"Currently I'm clerking for a second circuit judge. I read briefs all day and write them up for him," Hogue says. "The skills I learned in the Lawyering class are definitely a huge help to me here too, and I know they will continue to be when I complete clerking and join the law firm that hired me."
"International law exposure is important for obvious reasons for those who go on to international law in the private or publicsector. I think that's increasingly true for all our graduates," said Laura Spitz, the Law School's new associate dean for international affairs. "Even if your practice is small, at some point you will come into contact with international or foreign law," predicts Spitz, "whether it be because your client is a nonresident or multinational corporation, or because a set of facts raises international issues, or because the best way to advance your case is by comparison to a foreign jurisdiction."
Recently hired to bring visibility and coherence to the Law School's many international initiatives, Spitz, who is also executive director of the Clarke Center for International and Comparative Legal Studies, describes with energy and excitement the many opportunities for students to study abroad:
"We have a deep and rich program for a school of our size. Our law students can go overseas for an international dual-degree program in, say, French or German law, at places where we have established relationships like Paris I and Humboldt; or in Chinese law at KoGuan Law School in Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where our relationship is relatively new."
"Or they can go for a semester to one of our twenty-three partner schools all over the world—from China to Chile, from South Africa to Australia."
"Or they can design their own program and go anywhere in the world for a semester. Every year, three students are chosen by lottery to do just that."
Another way for law students to go abroad is through a clinic or an externship, says Spitz. This year she even helped find summer internships in Paris for students that segued from there to attendance at the Law School's Paris Summer Institute. Law students also participate in international moot court competitions, most recently in Vienna, Hong Kong, and Paris, Spitz relates.
"Professor Annelise Riles's
Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture offers students the opportunity to go to conferences in East Asia," Spitz points out. "Two attended a program in Asian law and gender at Waseda University in Japan."
"We've also worked hard to bring international experiences to our law students on campus," Spitz asserts. "We have thirty to thirty-five exchange students who come to campus from overseas universities and whom we now match with buddies from the United States (it helps both students). Our eighty-six LL.M.s are all international students. And at any given time about 120 of our 700 students are international."
Adding to the cosmopolitan mix are international visiting scholars and the dozens of visiting speakers who come here to talk about international issues through the school's Berger International Legal Studies Program. "I chose Cornell with its Paris Summer Institute in mind, and I would absolutely recommend it to others," says Barbara Hungerford, J.D./LL.M. '09
. "My comparative law classes were interesting, and the experience was really helpful when I interviewed for jobs," says Hungerford, who is now an associate in the London office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
WHAT (AND HOW) WE'RE DOING LATELY
In our efforts to continue to innovate, we are exploring ways to collaborate with, and be of service to, Cornell’s new technology campus in New York City,” says Schwab.
He relates that Cornell Law Professor Oskar Liivak
, who specializes in intellectual property and patent law, recently led a practicum at the Cornell NYC Tech campus to help budding entrepreneurs bring their high-tech ideas to fruition.
“We also are working closely with Cornell Tech to recruit to the Law School more faculty who specialize in information science, technology, and intellectual property rights,” says Schwab. “And we are discussing potential externship opportunities for our law students with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s patent examiner at the new tech campus.”
So much new is happening at the Law School, it can be hard to retain it all—to recap: new faculty, new courses, new clinics, more externships, first-rate lawyering, international initiatives, and outreach efforts with Cornell’s new tech campus. But practically speaking, are those efforts actually leading to a better hiring picture for the Law School’s graduates?
Although available jobs for law school graduates in general are declining, “Ninety-three percent of the Class of 2012 have jobs,” reports Schwab. “We ranked 4th among law schools with the highest placement rate at large firms, and 9th for the highest placement rate in full-time, long-term legal jobs.”
While the figures for the Class of 2013 weren’t completed at press time for this issue of the Forum, “they appear to be holding steady with the Class of 2012,” says Schwab.
“Those who hire our students understand that we remain true to our core values of equipping students ‘with the professional skills and intellectual discipline they will need throughout their careers,’” says Schwab in a nod to Professor Rudy Schlesinger.
He asked alumni at Reunion 2013 to recall the words above the tribunal in the MacDonald Moot Court Room: “The law must be stable, but it cannot stand still,” then reassured them: “Cornell Law School also is not standing still. Challenges remain, but clearly we are moving forward at a pace and in a way that’s best for us.”