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May 21, 2007

What's different about the curriculum at evangelical law schools?

Though Jeralyn at TalkLeft is troubled by the rise of evangelical law schools discussed in this Chicago Tribune article, I am intrigued by this phenomenon.  Specifically, befitting this blog, I wonder whether and how these law school bring innovate techniques into the curriculum as part of their distinctive educational missions.

Though I suppose I could look this up, I wonder if readers know whether there are unique courses or programs at evangelical law schools.  I am often intrigued by the lack of innovation in traditional law school curriculum, and I would suspect that these new law school might look for new ways to train new lawyers.  I especially wonder if there is any evidence that unique classes or teaching techniques at these law schools might produce unique qualities and talents in lawyers.

Posted by DAB

May 21, 2007 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink


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If you take a look at the Regent University School of Law course catalog on the law school's website, you'll find courses in Biblical Law and Christian Foundations of Law. Also of note is this description for the course "Crime and Punishment":

"Inquiry into the scriptural principles that govern man’s role in, and responsibility for, punishing and controlling sinners and for redressing the consequences of sin. Included is a study of the historical foundations of our criminal justice system. Other topics to be discussed are the differences between a sin and a crime, appropriate sanctions and current issues in criminal justice."

Posted by: Amy Wright | May 22, 2007 12:36:51 PM

At Pepperdine Law School - not new, but affiliated with the Church of Christ - there are unique courses that wouldn't be found in secular schools. For example: Christianity and Human Rights, Union Rescue Mission Legal Aid Clinic, and "Faith, Morality, and Legal Practice." The last class is of particular note, because it addresses specific ways traditional law school teaching methods and curriculum have failed to prepare students to practice law, or have caused them to lose any personal moral compass for making work-related decisions. It also discusses the role that faith plays in a lawyer's life.

Posted by: Student | May 23, 2007 9:30:41 PM

Tangentially, I have found in my work with Jesuit law schools -- and specifically, Seattle University School of Law, through Legal Aid University (now Center for Legal Aid Education) -- that they display considerable commitment to the role of law in serving the poor and powerless.

This piece of the article intrigues me: "Liberty integrates the moral and religious roots of the rule of law into every class discussion, an approach Staver calls "law plus." That came through during a recent "Lawyering Skills" class when professor Rodney Chrisman presented a case and then asked his students whether they would compromise their integrity on behalf of a good client."

Why shouldn't this type of conversation be integral to all law school curricula?

Posted by: Gene Koo | May 25, 2007 5:42:23 PM

Ms. Wright, this question you posed is a great one. Certainly, all law schools should be looking to innovate in how law is taught. Particularly since schools are learning from local employers that the graduates they produce "know" a lot of law but don't have a clear understanding of how to practice it. Here at Liberty University, we have a program (mentioned in the portion from the ChiTrib article) called Lawyering Skills. We require six full semesters of practical legal training. This is not merely a Pretrial Advocacy class. (As a sidenote: I had a few semester classes in writing and pretrial advocacy when I was in law school. The "ad hoc" feel of the classes I took pales in comparison to what we do here.) The program, by its length and breadth, goes far deeper than that sort of course. There is a transactional component built into the entire process as well. Personally, I think the program is wonderful and our students (and their summer employers) have already reaped the benefits.

This program doesn't really have a theological component built into it. Issues of faith find their way into every class at some point. Professor Chrisman's question to his students quoted in Mr. Koo's post is an example. As it was mentioned about Regent, we also have classes that are geared specifically toward "Law and Faith" issues. These kinds of classes, both required and elective, are understandably different from the curriculum present at the secular school I attended.

Frankly, however, the discussion of philosophical underpinnings to law seems to be more wide open, and more wide-spread at Liberty than what I experienced when I was in law school. Some secular schools have taken an overtly philosophical position, e.g. law and economics. Some haven't taken it overtly, but it is really the assumption for their approach. That's fine. Difference is good and I think students should have a choice. What I see here compared to what I saw at my school is that lots of philosophical positions get discussed, at length, here. You would guess that here the conversation would be "all God (natural law, theonomy, etc.) all the time." Granted, there is a focus here, but the conversation includes legal positivism, law and economics, etc. I never saw that kind of breadth of discussion at my law school. Law was politics and that was it. You had to be in a tiny seminar class to get more of an overview of all the thinking out there.

I'm really glad I found this thread. Good stuff! I'd be happy to talk to anyone who is more interested. I guess by clicking on my blue name below you can send me an email. If that doesn't work, I can be reached at grost@liberty.edu.

Posted by: Grant Rost | May 31, 2007 1:58:58 PM

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