NYU Law unveils curricular initiative enhancing practical learning for future lawyers

The release of a report detailing NYU School of Law’s ambitious new set of enhancements to the curriculum, with an emphasis on third-year students, was the focus of the weekly Milbank Tweed Forum on October 17. Moderated by Dean Richard Revesz, the panel included Law School Trustee Evan Chesler ’75, the chair of the 12-member Strategy Committee that formulated the new curricular initiative and drafted the report; Vice Dean Kevin Davis; Visiting Professor Sally Katzen; and Melody Barnes, NYU’s vice provost for global student leadership initiatives.

On the same day that a story about the curricular enhancements appeared on the front page of the business section of the New York Times, Revesz explained to the audience how the financial crisis of 2008 had prompted the Board of Trustees to consider how to react to dramatic changes in the legal profession given the new economic reality. With an eye to empowering NYU Law graduates to compete in an increasingly global 21st-century marketplace, the Strategy Committee drafted a report outlining a five-pronged initiative, which will be phased in primarily during the 2013-14 academic year.

Chesler, the presiding partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, described a two-sided market in which, on one hand, law schools work to recruit the most talented students, and, on the flip side, schools subsequently strive to place those students in the best possible jobs after graduation: “Over time, a disconnect has emerged between the needs of those two sides of the market and what law schools provide.” While the prevailing view over the last century held that teaching critical thinking skills was the chief function of a law school, Chesler said, that task was no longer enough. Practical lawyering competencies, he argued, were just as crucial, including global fluency, familiarity with government’s role in the law, specialized knowledge in specific legal areas, business and financial literacy, and leadership and collaborative skills.

“U.S. lawyers now practice typically on a global scale,” said Davis, Beller Family Professor of Business Law, who is responsible for the global fluency component. “It’s not just a niche thing. If you’re doing international human rights law or international commercial arbitration, if you’re doing mergers and acquisitions, if you’re doing FCPA investigations, if you’re doing IP litigation, you’re often doing it on a global scale in a dozen different jurisdictions.” Augmenting longstanding Law School institutions such as the renowned Hauser Global Law School Program, NYU Law will launch a 3L study-and-practice abroad semester in Spring 2014 to help prepare J.D. students to practice globally. A curriculum designed by NYU Law faculty and complemented by local internships and language training will offer a more immersive and comprehensive educational experience than traditional study-abroad programs to as many as 25 students each in Buenos Aires, Paris, and Shanghai.

Katzen, the administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Clinton administration, will oversee the government prong of the initiative, including the Legislative, Administrative, and Government Lawyering Clinic, which will place 3L students in Washington, D.C., for a full semester of classroom study and government agency fieldwork. While such experience is invaluable for students intending to work in the public sector, Katzen said, it will also be an important education for private-sector attorneys whose work will be affected by laws concerning taxes, exports, antitrust, employment, and the environment: “There is hardly anything that a company has to think about that doesn’t have something to do with government policy. If you’re going to be affected by government policy, it would be very helpful to have some insight into how policies are made.”

The former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council in the current administration, Barnes, who addressed the leadership and collaborative skills facet of the new enhancements, is designing a University-wide leadership certificate program that will involve select students from the Law School as well as NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service, Stern School of Business, and School of Medicine. “Throughout your career,” she said, “as the work you are doing becomes more complex, as you have to manage people, work with people in the profession but also across professions, those skills become more and more important.” In addition, NYU Law will introduce a Leadership Speakers Series, subject-area leadership seminars, emotional intelligence training, and a Peer Leadership Program.

Revesz summarized two other components of the initiative. One, the establishment of faculty-designed “professional pathways,” will allow interested 3Ls to develop specialized skills in eight specific fields of study: law and business, global legal practice, litigation and dispute resolution, tax, intellectual property, criminal practice, government lawyering, and academic careers. The second is a more formal business and financial literacy curriculum to give students a working knowledge of essential business and finance concepts and connect those ideas specifically to legal practice.

Chesler, who has served as a hiring partner at his firm, spoke directly to the utility of the curricular enhancements for NYU Law graduates: “The kinds of things that we’ve proposed here and that will be implemented will actually be critically important in the job market... because the process is more subjective [and less about simply grades] than it appears to be.”

Posted on October 18, 2012