Change is coming to Fordham Law School.
Less than a year after it moved into a new building at the Lincoln Center campus, the law school is embracing curriculum changes designed to help students better take advantage of the faculty’s expertise and make themselves more attractive to future employers.
Robin Lenhardt, a professor of law who chaired the faculty curriculum committee last year, said the changes, which affect all three years (four for evening students) of instruction, are a recognition of the momentous transition the legal profession is undergoing.
“It’s clear that clients are asking law firms and law service providers to do things differently,” she said.
Lenhardt said that today’s firms are bringing in “more non-lawyers to do compliance work and other things that lawyers did in the past. So we’re trying to be responsive to the change in the programs we offer.”
One high-profile change, being rolled out this month, is the introduction of five concentrations, areas of study in which students will be able to focus after their first year. The five concentrations were created as a way to allow students to “go deep” and devote a small portion of their studies to a topic of their interest, while still preserving the breadth of studies that they’ll need upon graduation. They are:
James Brudney, a professor of law who serves as faculty curriculum committee chair this year, said the aim of the concentrations is to get students to start planning for their upper level courses in a more coherent way. Of the top 50 law schools ranked in U.S. News & World Report, roughly three-fifths promote variations of concentrations.
“One goal is to make students more knowledgeable in systematic terms about a particular skill set or subject area,” he said. “The second is to show employers that students have not only a passion for something, but also the structure and discipline to follow their passion, such as intellectual property. That’s a useful thing for employers to see—even if they don’t have an intellectual property unit in their law firm.”
First-year students will likewise see changes to their curriculum. In addition to instruction that emphasizes more robust writing skills and a foundational course on legislation and regulation, they’ll be required to take a weeklong “boot camp” on quantitative analysis.
Nestor Davidson, associate dean for academic affairs, professor of law, and director of the Fordham Urban Law Center, said a basic financial vocabulary is a must-have for graduates who start their own companies, work with other startups, or work in a regulatory environment. It’s something he himself dealt with before joining Fordham, when he was an affordable-housing lawyer.
“When I began working with clients who were developing and investing in affordable housing, the first thing that I was handed was not a case or a contract, but a spreadsheet,” he said. “To understand the transaction, I had to learn how to read a financial statement.”
One change that will affect all law students is a renewed emphasis on counseling. Lenhardt said she expected the new concentrations would increase opportunities for faculty/student interactions.
“Too many students leave law school without the kind of relationships that they should develop with faculty,” she said. “The concentrations should help to build in opportunities for students to receive more guidance.”
Going forward, Davidson said students would not be under the illusion that lawyers are simply litigators.
“The traditional curriculum has had many strengths, but it has been focused too strongly on one aspect of the role that lawyers play,” he said. “This new curriculum has more rigor, greater breadth, and will prepare students much better for their upper level and their careers.”