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Indiana law schools change curriculum to chart new course

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Like many of their educational colleagues across the country, Indiana law schools have been reviewing and rethinking the way they prepare their students for the legal profession.

The schools are trying to respond to not only the pummeling they have taken since the recession but also to changes in the workplace. Indiana law school deans maintain even before the economic downturn took hold, demand for lawyers was declining because the legal profession was undergoing a fundamental shift. Work that attorneys had once done was either outsourced to service providers or eliminated by technology advances.

il-maurer-15col.jpg Students at Indiana University Maurer School of Law study between classes. (Photo submitted - IU Maurer School of Law)

Once the recession hit and so many lawyers were out of work and struggling to repay staggering student loan debt, law schools were heavily criticized for charging too much and doing too little to prepare their students.

Charting the way forward, Hoosier deans say, will primarily focus on revamping the curriculum

in and out of the classroom, making their students better prepared for jobs in the legal field.

“I think it’s really important today to see the challenges to law schools and the challenges to the legal professional as a structural challenge,” said Hannah Buxbaum, interim dean of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. “We all have a stake in educating the next generation of lawyers. (We have) to work on that challenge in a collaborative way and think about the training students get in law schools that ultimately connects them with the work they will do on the job in their initial years of employment.”

IU Maurer

A jump in its ranking by U.S. News and World Report buffeted I.U. Maurer School of Law from the initial impact of the recession. The school climbed to 23 in 2009, up from 36, in the publication’s national ranking of law schools which boosted the number of students wanting to attend the Bloomington school.

buxbaum Buxbaum

Classes that started in the fall of 2010 and 2011 were, Buxbaum said, abnormally large, numbering 251 and 242 respectively. With the 2012 entering class, the size fell to 201.

Although that is significantly smaller than the two previous classes, it is still within the normal range for Maurer, Buxbaum said. Applications are still arriving, but she is expecting the class matriculating in 2013 will be small as well.

Even as classes were growing, Maurer was making adjustments in response to the economic realities. The school has been revamping its curriculum to provide more clinical experience and opportunities for externships for students.

“It’s clear that the legal profession is changing in significant ways, but I think it’s really important to understand as well as we can how it’s changing,” Buxbaum said. “We are trying to be careful about what the changes are as we try to react to them.”

The hands-on experience is not pushing out the traditional law school curriculum but rather is being integrated into it. Legal doctrine, problem solving, and critical- and analytical-thinking skills are still important and still being taught, Buxbaum said. Mixing in real-world experience enables the students to gain a deeper understanding of the law.

IU McKinney

To give students more practical experience, Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, advocates bringing more practicing attorneys into the classroom to help teach. The decision of how to reorient the curriculum will be made by the faculty, he said, but changes could follow the national trend to providing more skills-based learning with externships and clinics.

roberts-gary-mug.jpg Roberts

“I’m a strong believer that we need to have a relationship with the practicing bar,” he said. Traditionally, law firms have left the task of education to the law schools, saying it’s not their responsibility. “I think the legal profession as a whole has to take some responsibility to help new members transition into the work force. Members of the bar are better at practical training than some law professors.”

The higher costs associated with experiential learning will be coming at a time when McKinney is seeing its revenues decline because its class sizes are shrinking.

Historically, the school has enrolled classes around 300 students, but the size of the class that entered in the fall of 2012 was 259 students. Pointing out the applicant pool has also shrunk, Roberts anticipates the class matriculating in 2013 will be smaller still, possibly 220.

The decline in the number of students could lead to a multimillion-dollar structural deficit in three years, Roberts said. However, the school has substantial reserves which, he added, will offset the shortfall.

Consequently, Roberts said, McKinney School of Law has the luxury to be very deliberate and thoughtful in how it adjusts to the smaller revenue stream. It will not need to take a meat ax to its programs.

Valparaiso

Students who arrived at Valparaiso University Law School in the fall of 2012 were the first to be introduced to a new interactive mobile website which provides a step-by-step guide to career goals. The program, dubbed VOLT, gives students a checklist to follow from the first semester through graduation that will better position them for getting a job, school leaders say.

conison Conison

For the class starting in the fall of 2013, the school is launching a new curriculum. The faculty has “significantly revised” the course of study to teach the students as they learn today and give them the skills and expertise they will need, said Jay Conison, dean of the Valparaiso law school.

With more emphasis on problem solving, group work and hands-on learning, the new curriculum will be woven into the traditional classes.

“I think what we’re seeing now is different schools adapting to changes in different ways,” Conison said. “I think we’ll see law schools become more diverse in their educational approach and focus on core areas. It’s creating many more laboratories of experimentation which is a good thing.”

How many students will be part of the new curriculum is uncertain. Applications to Valparaiso had been holding steady, Conison said, until 2012. He could not pinpoint a single reason for the decline, and he is unsure at this point how the applicant pool for 2013 will measure up.

Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame Law School is looking for guidance from the marketplace as it reviews its curriculum. For example, with more employers demanding more help in intellectual property law, the private institution is ramping up resources in that area.

Also, more experiential learning programs are being added to provide the students with more hands-on experience. Notre Dame’s new Chicago program draws upon the alumni and employer connections to offer students a semester of classes and intensive externships in the Windy City.

newton Newton

“Our faculty Committee on Professional Formation is taking an in-depth look at our curriculum,” Nell Jessup Newton, dean of the Notre Dame law school, wrote in an email. “We have added more experiential learning opportunities such as our IP/Entrepreneurship clinic to help prepare students for particular markets and are also increasing externship opportunities for our students to gain hands-on skills.”

While the applicant pool has gotten smaller, Notre Dame has not had to significantly reduce its class size.

On the cusp of the downturn in 2008, Notre Dame received 3,300 applications to the law school. That number fell to 2,888 for the class entering in 2012. Still, class size has remained steady, Newton said, because the school limits each class to about 180 students.

The class entering 2012 had 178 members.•

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  1. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

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  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

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