Autumn 2010: Of Note

Gavel and books

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New Rules

Shifting course, to better prepare law students for practice

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By Mary J. Loftus

For the first time in more than a decade, new law students faced a different curriculum when they signed up for classes in August. The School of Law Class of 2013 will be required to take a course in legislation and regulation and can select an elective during the second semester.

“Our upper-level curriculum has changed both gradually and dramatically over the last dozen years or so, with the addition of many more specialized courses in emerging areas,” says Professor of Law Polly Price. “We wanted to lay a foundation for this upper-level work and make sure that we’re on the cutting edge of the way law is practiced today.”

The traditional first-year curriculum at top law schools across the country has been heavily common law for a long time. But United States law today is centered on statutes and regulations. “Whether students pursue litigation or transactional practices, this will be a huge part of their world,” Price says.

The introduction of an elective is in response to students’ desire for more options. Stacy Tolos Kane 10L, who served as the student representative on the curriculum committee, says in their first year “most law students are put in the same classes with the same students, and focus on the same type of law. This elective will allow students to take at least one class that they are very interested in and to choose their upper-level courses more deliberately.”

In the past decade, says Price, there has been an increase in field placements for second- and third-year students, who gain experience working in prosecutors’ offices, in-house at The Coca-Cola Company, at the SEC, at Delta, and in the regional offices of agencies and corporations. With three law clinics based at the school—the Turner Environmental Law Clinic, the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic, and the International Humanitarian Law Clinic—students can contribute to cases with real-world impact. And through partnerships with the Rollins School of Public Health, Goizueta Business School, and Georgia Tech, among others, students with interests in those specialties can gain dual academic credentials with experience.

A breadth of skills are necessary to be a lawyer, says Price: What documents are needed when a company buys another company? What must be done to hold perpetrators accountable in an international tribunal? How do you draw up a patent for a new bioengineering product?

“The law is alive and always changing,” she says. “We can’t possibly teach students everything they need to know, but we can provide a strong core.”

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