Yes, that is right. After a year of committee work and a few weeks of intense deliberations, the faculty at Indiana Law recently voted to revise our 1L curriculum to make room for a new 4-credit Legal Professions course.
Our strategic plan makes a commitment to “offer our students a continuously updated curriculum that meets the changing needs of the profession and professionalism." This new course attempts to actually deliver on those words. It also represents a large bet on the pedagogical value of socio-legal research on the profession.
Our theory is two-fold. First, drawing upon carefully edited ethnographies and empirical studies, the course will provide students with a systematic overview of various practice settings. Obviously, workplace structure and incentives vary widely between large law firms, plaintiffs' lawyers, mill practice, prosecutors, public interest lawyers, etc. If students have a better theoretical and factual understanding of the modern legal marketplace, they can better understand the subtle factors that push lawyers to cross ethical lines--and the serious consequences that can follow.
Second, by frontloading legal ethics in the 1L curriculum, we hope to address the issue, flagged by both the recent Carnegie Report and the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), that legal education tends to marginalize ethics, morality, and personal and professional values. According to the Carnegie Report, this is a by-product of the singleminded focus on legal reasoning ("thinking like a lawyer") in the 1L curriculum. After the first year, the Report finds, many students are left doubting that ethics or morality have any relevance to professional success; and a mandatory upper-level course in Professional Responsibility is too little too late.
Unfortunately, the critique by the Carnegie Report is consistent
with LSSSE data, which reveal a downward trend from the 1L to 3L year
in the number of students reporting that law school has contributed to
their "code of personal values and ethics." While I can understand the
hesitancy of law faculty to foist their own views onto their students, this is not a good trendline. As the Carnegie Report observes,
changing this dynamic requires more than the usual incremental change
of adding a new course or expanding a clinic.
Our longterm goal is to create a Legal Professions coursebook that offers a better way to teach the required PR materials while simultaneously laying the foundation for more satisfying and successful careers for our students. I will keep ELS readers informed on our progress.