Bloomberg Analysis: These Innovators Are Reinventing Law School Pedagogy

Bloomberg report

Whether it’s to address the skills gap new lawyers often face out of law school, prepare students for the changing bar exam, or provide additional ways and topics for students to learn, law schools are adapting how they educate students to more holistically prepare them for their careers.

Through the inaugural Law School Innovation Program, Bloomberg Law seeks to identify and acknowledge schools that are innovating in the legal education space. In addition to program finalists, we are highlighting top scoring programs in six categories: business, experience, justice, pedagogy, student development, and technology.

The top scoring programs in the pedagogy category included new types of courses, concentrations, experiential academies, and other related topics critical to student learning. The law schools are listed here, with additional information about each innovation.

Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

The Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School (BYU Law) offers the BYU Law Academies Program, which provides students with hands-on learning experiences and simulations that help to prepare students for their post-graduation careers. The academies offer students the chance to engage with a diverse set of experiences.

BYU Law’s program has nine current offerings, including the Trial Academy, Startups Academy, Deals Academy, Immigration Academy, Appellate Academy, Corporate Compliance Academy, Restructuring Academy, Chancery Academy, and International Commercial Arbitration Academy. Each academy is partnered with a law firm to give students the greatest exposure to practitioners and to various geographic markets in the respective academy’s field of focus.

“We believe in the power of traditional legal education to develop and refine our students’ analytical skills, and we have found that travel-study experiences like the Academies complement this classroom training by enabling law students to think about their careers more concretely,” said Gordon Smith, dean of BYU Law. “The Academies allow students to ‘try on’ a practice area, often in a city that is new to them,” Smith said.

University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law

The Hybrid JD in Intellectual Property, Technology, and Information Law offered by the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law (UNH Franklin Pierce) is the first ABA-approved non-residential JD program that allows students to specialize in a specific area of law. The program allows student to pursue the growing fields of intellectual property, technology, and information law, and is designed to launch the tech lawyers of tomorrow. Through its non-residential nature, the program improves access to legal education and caters to professionals working in the program’s specialized areas who want to learn more about the law.

The program is designed to grow students’ professional networks while they’re in school, and enables them to study from leading practitioners from coast to coast. UNH Franklin Pierce prides itself on the Hybrid JD in IP and Tech, and has enrolled hundreds of IP- and STEM-related graduates and professionals who benefit from the nature, structure, and focus of the program.

“We created the Hybrid JD in IP, Technology, and Information Law so that obtaining an outstanding legal education would be attainable for working professionals—from patent examiners, patent supervisors, IP managers, licensing specialists, and entrepreneurs to doctors—no matter where they reside in the US and the world,” Megan Carpenter, dean and professor of law at UNH Franklin Pierce, said. “Now, they can stay in their jobs and stay in their homes, and get a legal education that will train them to be a leader in their field,” Carpenter said.

Santa Clara University School of Law

The Tech Edge JD Program at Santa Clara University School of Law provides students with resources, support, and opportunities to prepare them for careers at the intersection of technology, business, and law. The certificate program begins before the start of 1L year, when students attend a special orientation where they learn about career planning as well as careers in technology law.

Throughout law school, student progress in the Tech Edge JD Program is measured through milestones (such as whether a student has negotiated and drafted a transaction), rather than course completion. This experience-based learning, coupled with support of an advisor on faculty and staff as well as two practitioner mentors, provides students with a jump-start on their careers.

“The Tech Edge JD program fundamentally reimagines legal education,” said Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute and assistant director of the Tech Edge JD program. “Instead of focusing on which courses students have completed, the program gets students to acquire the skills and competencies they need to achieve their professional success, whether that’s done in the classroom or elsewhere,” Goldman said.

South Texas College of Law

The Inter-School Negotiation Practicum (Practicum) held by South Texas College of Law Houston has provided almost 2,500 students from dozens of law schools the opportunity to participate in a month-long settlement negotiation of a pending lawsuit, which provides a hands-on, realistic learning experience.

The Practicum was designed to go beyond short, in-class hypothetical simulations and it requires participants to experience the inner workings of a settlement negotiation by using email, phone, and video over a one-month duration with opposing counsel they don’t know. Post-Practicum questionnaires show that students learn not only about practical settlement negotiations but also about professional preferences—such as whether they prefer verbal or written communication methods. These are valuable tools to have prior to practice.

“Most of what attorneys do on a daily basis is negotiate. Litigators know that very few cases actually make it to trial since most cases settle,” said Debra Berman, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. “The Practicum replicates how negotiations actually occur in legal practice by allowing students to experience what it is like to negotiate using actual court documents, with someone they do not know, using all modes of communication, and over a period of time,” Berman said.

New York Law School

The Enhancing Teaching and Learning in a Law School (ETLS) program at New York Law School (NYLS) incorporates students’ prior knowledge, experiences, and principles from educational research to advance student learning. The initiative is part of a larger effort involving NYLS and Teachers College, Columbia University, to study the success of such methods. This innovative way to teach the law acknowledges that not all students identify with or engage with subject matter in the same way, and it seeks to better meet all students where they are to ensure better learning outcomes—and thus better professional and personal outcomes.

“Incorporating students’ prior academic, cultural, and personal knowledge in teaching strategies and methodology enables students to learn more effectively,’ said Matt Gewolb, senior associate dean for academic affairs and institutional strategy. “As students are better prepared to master legal subjects’ core concepts and modes of thought, they are better equipped to learn how to apply their new-found knowledge to legal practice,” Gewolb said.

Northern Illinois University College of Law

At Northern Illinois University College of Law, the use of an online learning environment for in-person doctrinal classes has improved student satisfaction as well as increased student preparedness for class and participation in office hours. This innovation involves the employment of learning management systems (LMS) to complement student reading and lectures, providing students with a place where they can watch videos on course materials, read additional information on assigned cases, and complete low-stakes, online quizzes to test their comprehension.

These steps help to ensure that students not only complete readings and assignments but also understand their underlying context and holdings, thus leading to better understanding and educational outcomes.

“Practicing attorneys know that every important meeting with a client and every appearance in court is preceded by a lot of mostly invisible prep work,” said Andrew Mamo, assistant professor of law at Northern Illinois University College of Law. “Law professors know this about the classes they teach,” Mamo said. “But we often teach as if the in-class experience is the only thing that matters.” Mamo said that his course design, by contrast, “helps expose the process of learning and of preparation.”

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

The Pritzker School of Law at Northwestern University offers a Master of Science in Law (MSL) degree that allows STEM professionals to study a curriculum that ties together law, business, policy, and regulation so they can better understand the legal environment as it relates to their STEM professions.

The program offers a wide range of courses in regulatory analysis and strategy, IP and patent design, and business law and entrepreneurship. The program covers areas including health and medicine, privacy, technology, data use and security, compliance, and the legal industry. The MSL bridges the gap between technical professions and the law, enabling graduates to engage more fully with the multi-faceted issues they encounter in the real world and to more effectively interact with law (and lawyers) when the need arises.

“The MSL program represents a broader view of law schools’ traditional mission: to train not only lawyers but also professionals who will interact with the law,” said Director of the Master of Science in Law Program Leslie Oster and Associate Dean for Innovation and Partnerships Laura Pedraza-Fariña. “For this reason, the MSL program is deeply integrated into the life of the law school: the same faculty who teach law students also teach MSL students, and MSL students participate in many of the same extracurricular clubs and activities as law students,” Oster and Pedraza-Fariña said.

University of St. Thomas School of Law

The University of St. Thomas School of Law’s Compliance Concentration provides students with the ability to further their studies of compliance and ethics while obtaining their JD. The Compliance Concentration requires that students take three specifically tailored compliance courses (Compliance Programming, Ethical Cultures, and Executive Perspectives in Ethics and Compliance) as well as an elective—usually an experiential learning course—o ensure that they have a deep understanding of compliance in the context of law. In addition to the concentration, students may also enroll in a dual JD program, which allows them to receive a join JD/LLM in Organizational Ethics and Compliance.

“Our program not only teaches students the ways to approach compliance and ethics from a program perspective, it teaches them the soft skills needed to persuade and influence,” said Director of Organizational Ethics and Compliance Colleen Dorsey. “Those skills are critical in the workforce, as is the need to understand how to navigate the different stakeholder needs. Our program does this for our students,” Dorsey said.

Texas Tech University School of Law

The Research on Online Education in the Legal Academy at Texas Tech University School of Law provides professors and academics with insights into various facets of online legal education, allowing academics to design stronger online legal programs for students.

Associate Dean for Digital Learning and Graduate Education Vickie Sutton has led the efforts to build a body of knowledge regarding online pedagogy in the legal education space, beginning the body of research on the area of online legal education in 2014. This research impacts students by providing invaluable information to professors and law schools that are designing online learning environments for law students—promoting a better understanding of student learning and a stronger design of these online programs.

“We need more research in the field of online legal education as we move into more innovations like artificial intelligence that is coming to our classroom and are tools our students are already using,” Sutton said. “Exploring virtual reality for courses like trial practice or scenario building could be in the future as well,” she said.

Vanderbilt University Law School

The Program on Law and Innovation (PoLI) at Vanderbilt University Law School offers unique experiential learning courses that allow students to understand important facets of the legal field—including challenges that exist today and those that may come about in the future.

Through courses like Legal Problem Solving, Data in Law Practice, and Legal Process Designs—among others—PoLI affords students the ability to gain and improve competencies such as data literacy, process design and implementation, and entrepreneurialism, which aren’t always taught in a law school setting. In addition to academic courses, PoLI also has external events (such as the Summit on Law and Innovation), the PoLI Institute, and collaborates with the legal industry to provide students with more hands-on experience.

“Vanderbilt is one of the only law schools offering a comprehensive suite of courses focused on modern legal services delivery,” Director of Innovation Design at Vanderbilt Law School Cat Moon said. “The content is critical for new lawyers entering the profession, empowering them to both thrive in today’s practice and be agents for change going forward,” Moon said.