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Looking to attract employers' attention, some law schools are throwing out decades of tradition by replacing textbook courses with classes that teach more practical skills.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law started teaching project management this year and also offers a course on so-called emotional intelligence. The class has no textbook and instead uses personality assessments and peer reviews to develop students' interpersonal skills.
New York Law School hired 15 new faculty members over the past two years, many directly from the ranks of working lawyers, to teach skills in negotiation, counseling and fact investigation. The school says it normally hires one or two new faculty a year, and usually those focused on legal research.
And Washington and Lee University School of Law completely rebuilt its third-year curriculum in 2009, swapping out lectures and Socratic-style seminars for case-based simulations run by practicing lawyers.
A few elite players also are making adjustments. Harvard Law School last year launched a problem-solving class for first-year students, and Stanford Law School is considering making a full-time clinical course—which entails several 40-hour plus weeks of actual case work—a graduation requirement.
"Law firms are saying, 'You're sending us people who are not in a position to do anything useful for clients.' This is a first effort to try and fix that," says Larry Kramer, the law dean at Stanford.
The moves come amid a prolonged downturn in the legal job market. Only about one-quarter of last year's graduating law-school classes—down from 33% in 2009—snagged positions with big law firms, according to the National Association for Law Placement, an organization that collects employment data.
In past years, a law firm could bill clients for a new lawyer's work, even if that time were spent getting the novice up to speed. During the recession, corporate clients started limiting the number of hours a firm could...