How Would a Next Gen Law Degree Work?

A friend is chairing the development of a new law degree.  It’s an extension of a well respected R1 program but there’s lots of room for innovation.  It strikes me that there is an opportunity to create a program that is better, cheaper and faster than the mothership.  I suggested there were five dimensions worth considering in program design include the extent to which the program:

  • has a blended core: incorporating online content and social learning features to boost learning productivity and leverage instructional talent
  • utilizes online  learning: use instructors at a distance to expand students options/choices and keep costs down
  • is competency based: like, give credit for demonstrated skills and accelerated completion
  • incorporates work-based learning: a chance to differentiate, improve
  • features joint programs with business, econ, health, engineering
What’s your take?  What kind of experiences would a next generation law degree include?

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Ben Riley

Really interesting idea. As a former litigator, there are a number of ideas that pop into my head:
- Blending actual video of lawyers offering arguments in court (there's plenty of free footage available) connected to the actual legal pleadings filed -- show how the written work of lawyering connects with the courtroom
-- Use social learning to discuss creative and probative questions related to jury selection
-- All sort of electronic learning possibilities related to electronic discovery! This is a huge need and lawyers who are trained in the art of complex document production management are highly valued.
-- Use Google+ hangout (or similar tool) for peer-led moot courts
-- Could merge work-based idea with joint program -- let students get a badge in tax in part by working together with an accounting firm, a badge in environmental law by working with a nonprofit such as Sierra Club, etc.
As with teacher training, there is a huge disconnect between what the legal academy is interested in (theory) and what the legal profession actually entails. A new model based on preparing potential lawyers to fit the increasingly differentiated and specialized fields in law could get real traction, particularly if it can be done without forcing kids to take on >$100k in debt.


Tom Vander Ark

super helpful ideas, thanks Ben

Tom Vander Ark

Here is a great addition from a Perkins Coie partner:
More opportunities for practical experiences – anything that allows you to hone communication skills (with clients, tribunals, opposing sides, etc.). Not only litigation and direct service clinics, moot courts and business clinics (all the stuff that already happens). There should be stuff on drafting, letter writing, emails (really), and related activities. In my view, most of 3L should be spent in practicum.
More focus on the practicalities/admin of practicing law (this is different than first bullet). If you are going to a big firm, you need to know and do X, Y and Z to thrive – have courses on this stuff; we expect first year track associates to be organizing and supervising teams of discovery attorneys. If you want to go to a small firm, you need to think about this stuff (accounting, taxes, insurance, etc.). Government attorneys really need to have expertise in the following areas to add value. Law schools are prepping students to join a much different work force and work environment, with different pressures and measures of success, than even 10 years ago. Knowing the economics of a big firm, and how you fit in, would be valuable.
Career planning. More more more resources to students and alums, including those focused on helping students and alums transition to non-legal jobs.

vicky profy

I recently read about this site and pass it along: Practical learning among a community of experts for the novice lawyer. Connect online or live to challenge your skills. Engage with expert lawyers. Build your portfolio.


Tom Vander Ark

Vicky, this is a great resource and powerful example of highly relevant online learning

Tom Vander Ark

Neal Black said, "My top 3 suggestions, writ broadly, would be:
1.For those interested in going into fields of legal expertise involving clients who are businesses, more collaboration with graduate business students and graduate business faculty.
2.Maintain the extreme academic rigor traditionally associated with law school in the first two years (in fact, it might need to be ratcheted back up), but turn the focus in the third year to clinical work that will require real practical learning by the third-year students.
3.While maintaining the emphasis in the first and second years on learning to properly analyze legal issues, principally in the litigation and appellate context, also proactively expose first-year and second-year students to the entire spectrum of fields of legal specialization and expertise."


This sounds like a waste of time and effort. If the goal is to save money, why not just allow people to take the bar exam without going to law school? This is how they used to do it, and how a few states still do it.
If people wanted to work at the best firms or get other really good jobs they could still go to law school, but for many more mediocre jobs law school itself seems unnecessary.


Tom Vander Ark

That will be one of my suggestions: offer a law school MOOC and let anyone learn free and then take the bar.
Premium option would be MOOC plus social learning network (study group, guidance, internship connections) for about $500/course. Full meal deal would include course assessments for about $1000/course.

Tom Peraic

I think this is a very timely idea.
As a former litigator and a current GC who performs litigation management functions, I would be very interested in meeting young attorneys with the technical skills implied by participation in such a virtual/blended program. They could be in a position to immediately add value to important e-discovery tasks, probably initially in law firm settings, which frequently cause befuddlement among more seasoned counsel. Graduates of such virtual/blended programs would very likely form a nice complement to those attorneys with more experience.
The social aspects associated with a legal education would be a necessary component of such a program (see the hotel room scene in The Paper Chase.) A legal education is not about acquiring knowledge -- it's about changing the way one thinks. This can only be achieved in partnership settings in which ideas are freely exchanged. I know there are already quality services available in the social education space and it seems to me that it would be relatively easy to connect these dots in order to bring the various pieces of a quality legal education together.
Exciting idea -- I hope it comes to fruition and becomes reality soon.

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