Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : February 2007


 Bar Bulletin Focus

What's New In Legal Education    

Tomorrow's Attorneys Studying More Than Law

Today's law students grapple with an educational experience that would be immediately familiar to veterans of the legal profession. The lengthy casebook assignments, the Socratic method, Palsgraf and the duty of care, the issue-spotter exams—all of these are enduring fixtures of the law school experience. But legal education has also evolved over time, keeping pace with changes in the legal profession. The most recent innovations in legal education have been designed to equip the next generation of law students to practice in an environment of increasing complexity. Using new technologies, offering students a more global perspective and creating more opportunities for experiential learning all play a role, but some of the best developments in legal instruction have occurred at the intersection of law and other disciplines.

Negotiating the web of laws and regulations in areas like health care, domestic matters, business, the environment and intellectual property can be daunting to a newly-minted J.D. The School of Law is uniquely positioned to prepare students for these challenges by taking an interdisciplinary approach. The proximity of our sister schools, including the schools of medicine, pharmacy, social work and business, has enabled us to stay in the vanguard of legal education. By drawing on the resources in our own backyard, we have enriched our course offerings, joint-degree programs, research efforts and community service initiatives.

The School of Law offers almost 20 interdisciplinary courses that take advantage of these nearby assets. School of Pharmacy professors teach our students about food and drug law. Students in our Clinical Law Program work with School of Social Work faculty and students to reform law and policy related to housing, immigration, drug treatment, child welfare, special education and other matters. In our Law & Health Care Program, students from the health profession schools learn together with our law students through courses such as Critical Issues in Health Care, Conflict Resolution in Health Care, and Homeland Security: Interdisciplinary Study of Emergency Response to Natural and Manmade Disasters.

Interdisciplinary offerings find their fullest expression in the joint-degree programs the law school offers in conjunction with other University schools. The J.D./Master of Social Work program prepares students for careers in the administration of human service organizations, and in executive, legislative or judicial areas of government concerned with child welfare, family law and other issues. The J.D./M.S. program in toxicology prepares students for professions in the fields of environmental regulation and the assessment of public-health risks. Dual-degree programs with the schools of nursing, pharmacy and public health equip students with the specialized knowledge necessary for today's increasingly complex legal environment. Through other campuses, including College Park and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, students may couple their J.D.s with a degree in criminal justice, business administration, public policy or community planning to complement their legal education.

As the law itself has changed, so too has the role of the modern law school. Our mission has expanded from simply training successive generations of lawyers to actively working to improve the law and legal institutions. As a public law school, we also embrace a mission that includes serving as a resource for developing law and public policy in Maryland and beyond its borders. Our efforts in this area are enhanced immeasurably by the opportunities for collaboration that the University affords. The School of Law's specialty programs, academic centers and faculty scholarship, as well as its wide range of conferences and symposia all draw on the resources of our sister professional schools. Collaboration helps frame the debate on a variety of issues, such as end-of-life care, the environment, tobacco control, the ethics of nanotechnology and the intricacies of venture capital.

Our role as a public law school also includes offering service to the community. The law school's Clinical Law Program enables us to help people of modest means while giving our students hands-on experience in a diversity of practice areas. For many of these, an interdisciplinary approach enriches the students' understanding of the legal issues they seek to unravel and trains them to become collaborative problem solvers. For example, a law student might work with students from the schools of Social Work and Nursing to secure legal custody for a child's grandparents, provide the child with health care and ensure that the couple receives its government benefits. All told, the 24 individual clinics provide more than 110,000 hours of free legal services to Maryland citizens all across the state, and participation is required of all our full-time students.

The Center for Health and Homeland Security is an exemplar of interdisciplinary learning. At each of the University's six professional schools, the Center develops and expands on scientific research, health programs, policy development, training, legal analysis and government consulting. Through the Center, students have responded to innumerable requests from the city of Baltimore and surrounding localities, the state of Maryland and the federal government to help with a broad range of issues homeland security issues, such as planning for a potential terrorism crisis or formulating policies for consequence management.

The School of Law's reliance on interdisciplinary instruction extends to theatrical performances as well. Under the aegis of our Linking Law & the Arts program, the law school holds panel discussions and other events in conjunction with local artistic offerings. On one recent panel, Graham Burnett, a history of science professor at Princeton University, led a discussion titled "The Jury as Truth Finder: Fact or Fiction?" in conjunction with a performance of the play 12 Angry Men at the Hippodrome Theatre. The Linking Law & the Arts program seeks to use theater and art to help address complex legal, social, and public policy issues, while using the lens of law and society to help the public better understand theater and art.

Since the late 19th century, when Christopher Columbus Langdell developed the casebook teaching method at Harvard Law School, the core elements of legal education have remained largely unchanged. But today's law school graduates must command a scope of knowledge that extends beyond the law to encompass many other disciplines. By drawing on the wisdom and expertise of our academic community, we seek to equip the next generation of lawyers for new professional challenges with an innovative law school experience.

Karen H. Rothenberg, J.D., M.P.A. is Dean and Marjorie Cook Professor of Law of the University of Maryland School of Law.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February 2007