On July 23, 2019, I emailed the Associate Deans’ and Deans’ ABA listservs asking for information about innovative courses. I received 54 responses describing more than 60 courses. This is my third post describing what I have learned.
I organized the courses into four categories: Required, Electives, Skills and Clinics, and Law and Technology, and I am planning six blog posts, including my first post on innovative required courses, a second post on innovative electives that focus on cutting edge topics and cutting-edge practice areas, this third post addressing the other electives sent to me, two postings that will focus on Skills Courses and Clinics, and one posting that will focus on Law and Technology Courses.
Each posting describes the courses, identifies the law school that offers the course, and, if I have the information, provides the name of a professor at the law school who teaches the course. I will include at least some commentary about most of the courses. The quoted language comes from the email I received from the law school or from the law school’s website.
I divided the nominated electives into four categories: (1) electives that focus on cutting-edge legal topics, (2) electives that focus on specific, interesting practice areas, (3) electives that focus on lawyer well-being, (4) and a catch-all category intro which I tossed the other eight interesting electives. This post will focus on the electives in the second two categories.
Electives that Focus on Lawyer Well-Being
The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s “Mindful Lawyering” course, which Professor Clifford Rosky teaches as a two credit-hour, pass fail course, is an effort to communicate the law practice implications of a mindful practice.
Mindfulness refers to the practice of trying to pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, from one moment to the next, without criticism or judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help us develop greater awareness, concentration, and acceptance–allowing us to reduce our susceptibility to distractions, and respond creatively and constructively to pressures and demands, rather than reacting blindly out of habit.
The course description explains:
[I]n this course, students will practice mindfulness on a daily basis, both inside and outside of class. The course is divided into three units, in which we apply mindfulness to the personal, interpersonal, and institutional aspects of one’s professional identity as a lawyer. First, we will cover “personal” topics such as the relationship between the body and the mind in stress and relaxation responses; using mindfulness to examine one’s strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots; reflecting on what it means to be a “mindful” lawyer; and developing a mindful approach to thriving in law school and the practice of law. Second, we will cover “interpersonal” topics, including the “soft skills” of lawyering such as various styles of listening; vicarious trauma and empathy fatigue; basic principles of conflict management; the role of the lawyer in lawyer-client relations; and the recognition and reduction of implicit bias. Last, we will cover “institutional” topics such as fostering wellbeing in legal education and the practice of law, and new developments in the profession such as holistic and collaborative lawyering, restorative justice, and therapeutic jurisprudence.
Students in the class are “expected to maintain a daily practice of mindfulness.”
In a course called “The Happy Lawyer: Finding Your Path” developed by University of Richmond School of Law Dean Wendy Perdue and Professor Christopher Corts, Richmond students take a slightly different approach to developing habits that will ensure their long-term well-being. The course description explains that the course:
[E]xplores the role that workplace attributes and personal characteristics play in the lives of lawyers. Class meetings will be held on Sunday evenings over dinner at the home of Dean Perdue. During each class session, students will discuss prepared readings relevant to the course topic, and interact with guest speakers who will share a real-world perspective on lawyering, career development, self-care practices, and the particular ways they have pursued happiness, purpose, and meaning in their work.
Perhaps most interestingly, the class, which is capped at 10 students, meets each week at Dean Perdue’s home over Sunday night dinner. Here is an article that both provides additional information about this class and important background on the challenges that this course and the other courses described here are trying to address.
A third variation on this theme, the University of Tennessee College of Law’s “Thriving as a Lawyer (A Scientific Approach),” was developed by Professor Doug Blaze and Adjunct Professor Candice Reed (UT Law ’00), who earned her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The course was
Designed to introduce law students to the scientific principles of positive psychology, while incorporating “hands-on learning” through empirically validated positive interventions, which require cognitive reasoning and physical effort, encourage habitualizing behavior, involve goal-setting, and allow for self-efficacy or autonomy.
Other Innovative Electives
The breadth of courses in this last category reflects the breadth of interests of our faculty colleagues around the country. Two of the courses seem to be grounded in their law school’s context. Wayne State University Law School’s “Race, the Law, and Social Change in Southeast Michigan” focuses on social justice issues from the lens of the law school’s home city, Detroit. The course description explains:
Detroit is the most segregated metropolitan area in the country. This course examines the role and limits of law in addressing issues of race, discrimination and equality in Southeast Michigan. From a legal and anthropological perspective, students will study the efforts that attorneys have made over the past century to create a region more consistent with American values of inclusiveness. The course will examine individual and class action lawsuits and other forms of policy advocacy, all addressing legal problems in Southeast Michigan, examining litigation tactics and the role of expert testimony. The history and social problems of the region are examined from the perspective of the courtroom.
Lincoln University Duncan School of Law’s “Lincoln’s Constitution” course draws on the work of its namesake for the focus of a course. The course description explains:
This course provides an in-depth analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s constitutional perspectives, interpretations and actions. After a brief review of Lincoln’s biography and times, the course will examine his attitude and actions regarding slavery, secession, war powers, habeas corpus, emancipation, free speech and other individual rights, and reconstruction. The course also will evaluate the profound effects of Lincoln’s actions on modern American constitutional law.
The remaining courses are all over the map and are presented in the order I received them.
While many law schools offer a “Spanish for Lawyers” course, American University Washington College of Law’s Professor Jayesh Rathod has developed a more in-depth course, “Bilingual Lawyering.” The course description explains:
This one-credit course is designed to prepare students to be effective bilingual (Spanish-English) practitioners of U.S. immigration law. Students who enroll must have conversational Spanish language ability, as the course is taught primarily in Spanish. The immigration law survey course (LAW 655-001) is a co-requisite or prerequisite. . . . The content of the course will include the following: (1) discussion of, and practice in articulating substantive immigration law, and relevant legal procedures, to Spanish-speaking clients; (2) discussion of, and practice in counseling Spanish-speaking clients with immigration-related legal concerns; (3) ongoing discussion, in Spanish, of issues and questions raised by the assigned course readings; and (4) review of Spanish language vocabulary needed to communicate with clients about immigration law. More broadly, during the course we will consider challenges inherent in bilingual lawyering, along with different approaches to bilingual lawyering scenarios. In short, this is not simply a “Spanish for immigration lawyers” course, but rather a more rigorous effort to prepare you for the practice of immigration law in both English and Spanish
In this essay, Professor Rathod provides additional information about the course and explains the pedagogical context for the course.
[The essay] . . . outlines a unique, bilingual instructional model that involves adding an optional credit hour – taught in Spanish or another language – to existing doctrinal courses. Drawing from the literature on language pedagogy and classroom experiences over several years, the essay describes the basic architecture for these courses, specific instructional techniques, as well as some challenges and limitations of this model.
One of my favorite innovative electives is Northeastern University School of Law’s new “Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design and Legal Empowerment.” The course is a true interdisciplinary effort, bringing together law students and art students to solve important legal services problems. As the law school explained:
The NuLawLab’s engagement with students at the School of Law typically begins with their enrollment in the Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design and Legal Empowerment. This limited-enrollment intensive seminar explores the use of design principles in the development of new models for delivering legal information and services. Law and art students explore problem-solving methodologies derived from the fields of product and systems design as they apply them to a specific legal design problem. By the end of the experience, students have worked together as a team to take an idea from brainstorm to tested prototype.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law has implemented a unique approach to offering field experience courses. The courses are offered during intersessions and are attached to one of the law school’s doctrinal courses. As the law school explained:
Preservation law is connected to a one-week trip on the Buffalo National River, International Criminal Law is connected to a one-week trip to international organizations in the Hague, Missouri Civil Procedure is connected to a trip to the Missouri Supreme Court, and Family Violence is connected to a trip to the Yucatan to learn about how family violence is addressed in Mexico. Students reflect on their experiences and how the doctrines from class translate into practice in the field.
The University of Richmond School of Law offers a second course of interest to this post. The law school’s innovative “Vices – Prohibition, Regulation, and Social Impact” course
[E]xamines the historical treatment of and trends in public policy regarding gambling, pornography, prostitution, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs . . . [and] the effectiveness of these policies on human behavior and related industry, including the impact of legal and illicit markets on society, race and gender.”
The University of Arkansas Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law offers an interesting post-Business Organizations course called “Corporate Justice.” The course extends the concepts students learned in Business Organizations to social justice issues. Subjects include “Corporate Board Diversity, the Private for-profit Prison industry, the Financial Market Crisis of 2008, and the pursuit of social justice in the corporate context.” The course, designed by Bowen Professor andré douglas pond cummings, seeks to equip students “with a renewed knowledge of basic Corporate Law concepts, like the Business Judgment Rule and Board of Director fiduciary duties,” and “the skills necessary to engage in shareholder activism, [address] board of director diversity, and [understand] causes for capital market traumas.”
The final course in this category is the University of Mississippi School of Law‘s “Law and Science Fiction” course. The law school describes its specialized law and literature course in this way:
Many of the great works of science fiction deal with law in its various guises, some directly, others indirectly. In particular, science fiction offers a unique perspective to address issues relating to contemporary problems in law and society. This mini-seminar will explore some of the major themes of science fiction as they relate to law and society, focusing on questions of diversity and autonomy. Course materials will include short stories, graphic novels, novels, episodes from science fiction TV shows, and movies.