Stanford Law Announces Revamped Upper-Level Curriculum:
From an announcement made on Tuesday:
  Stanford Law School today announced changes that are transforming the JD into a three-dimensional degree program that combines the study of other disciplines with team-oriented, problem-solving techniques and expanded clinical training that enables students to represent clients and litigate cases—before they graduate. Stanford's innovation is being driven by the new demands on modern lawyers, which are fundamentally different from those present when the law school curriculum was formed.
  Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer said the pedagogical changes the school is spearheading are focused on the second and third year curriculum. He hopes Stanford's reform—which began last year and should be fully implemented by 2009—will provide a model for legal education generally.
  Talk to any lawyer or law school graduate and they will tell you they were increasingly disengaged in their second and third years," Kramer said. "It's because the second and third year curriculum is for the most part repeating what they did in their first year and adds little of intellectual and professional value. They learn more doctrine, which is certainly valuable, but in a way that is inefficient and progressively less useful. The upper years, as presently configured, are a lost opportunity to teach today's lawyers things they need to know. Lawyers need to be educated more broadly—with courses beyond the traditional law school curriculum—if they are to serve their clients and society well."
  "Business, medicine, government, education, science, and technology have all grown immensely more specialized," Kramer said. "Legal education must adapt. How can a lawyer truly comprehend and grapple with a complex intellectual property dispute without understanding anything about the technology at issue? What counselor can effectively advise a client about investing in China or India without understanding their particular legal structures, to say nothing of their different cultural expectations and norms?" . . .
  Stanford Law School's first change has been to make it easy for law students to take courses outside the law school, thus creating a way to add breadth in their education. . . .
  And while the school has long permitted applicants to propose virtually any joint degree, Kramer wants to take joint degrees a step further than other schools by enlarging the number of such programs that enable students to complete the requirements more quickly and at less expense. Specifically, he hopes to formalize more than 20 joint degree masters and PhD programs over the next three years, modeled on the longstanding JD/MBA program. Like the JD/MBA, these programs combine course requirements in ways that greatly reduce the time and money it takes to pursue two distinct degrees, typically saving a full year. Hence, many of the JD/Masters degrees—in such fields as engineering, education, environmental science, and more—can be completed in the same three years it has traditionally taken to earn a JD alone. . . .
  "What we're doing here no other university has done," said Kramer, "and almost no other university can do, because they don't have the same number and quality of schools and departments. The idea is to utilize the rest of the university to create a more three-dimensional legal education. We realized that the rest of the university is training the people who will become our students' clients. Good lawyers need to understand what their clients do."
  This is very interesting, although I confess it's not entirely clear to me what it means. (A three-dimensional program? Who knew that Stanford has been offering a mere two-dimensional curriculum all this time?). As best I can tell, the real reform here is to decrease the number of required "law" courses in the curriculum so that students can take more courses outside of the law school. Also, the school appears to be adding two new clinics.

  It will be interesting to see how this works in practice. I vaguely recall that when I was a student at Harvard Law a decade ago, students were allowed to take one course every semester outside the law school. Among my friends, one took a Chinese language course, and another took a few courses in American politics over at the Kennedy School of Government. My recollection is that few students took advantage of this option, however; most took all of their classes in the law school. (If I recall correctly, my friends who took classes out of the law school generally viewed them as "free passes" that were nice breaks from the rigor of law school.) Of course, that was back in the 20th Century, when lawyering was different.

  Hat tip: Matt Bodie.

  UPDATE: Over at First Movers, Penn law student Anthony Ciolli argues that "Stanford is pretty much copying the Penn Law School curriculum verbatim and passing it off as 'innovative.'"