On July 23, 2019, I emailed the Associate Deans’ and Deans’ ABA listservs asking for information about innovative courses. I received 54 responses describing more than 60 courses. This is my second post describing what I have learned. (Note 1: I adjusted my label from “unique courses” to “innovative courses” so I can duck the question of whether any particular course meets the high standard of distinctiveness required by the word “unique.”)
I organized the courses into four categories: Required , Electives, Skills and Clinics, and Law and Technology, and I am planning six blog posts, including my first post (which addressed Required Courses), two postings on Electives (for which I received the largest number of nominated courses) and of which this posting is the first, two on Skills Courses and Clinics (for which I received the second largest number of nominated courses), and one on Law and Technology Courses.
Each posting describes the courses, identifies the law school that offers the course, and, if I have the information, provides the name of a professor at the law school who teaches the course. I will include at least some commentary about most of the courses. The quoted language comes from the email I received from the law school or from the law school’s website.
In this posting, as my title for this posting suggests, I am focusing on innovative electives. I divided the nominated electives into four categories: (1) electives that focus on cutting-edge legal topics, (2) electives that focus on specific, interesting practice areas, (3) electives that focus on lawyer well-being, (4) and a catch-all category intro which I tossed the other eight interesting electives. This post will focus on the electives in the first two categories; my next post will focus on electives in the second and third categories.
Electives that Focus on Cutting-Edge Legal Topics
The breadth of courses I shoe-horned into this category is significant. The category includes a course framed around the criminal procedure issues in the Netflix television series Making a Murderer, a course that focus on governmental oversight and accountability, which has been in the news a bit lately, and a course entitled “Hip-Hop and the American Constitution.”
In the University of Utah School of Law’s three credit-hour “Making a Murder” course, created and taught by Professor Shima Baradaran Baughman, students analyze criminal procedure issues not covered in typical Criminal Procedure courses, such as:
[S]cience in the court room, venue motions, prosecutorial ethics, police evidentiary issues, jury behavior, etc. In each class session, the students watch an episode or two of the series. The class then discusses the particular issues highlighted in that episode. The students also read over 2,000 pages of trial transcripts and motions from the Avery/Dassey cases so they can judge for themselves whether police/lawyers/judges acted properly.
This article includes an interview with Professor Baughman, who provides further details about this wildly popular course.
American University Washington College of Law is offering a particularly timely seminar called “Advanced Topics in Oversight and Accountability” created and taught by Professor Fernando Laguarda. According to Professor Laguarda’s syllabus, this two-credit course explores and analyzes “the work of the Inspectors General, Office of Government Ethics, Office of Special Counsel, Government Accountability Office, and the Office of Management and Budget, among other constituent elements of the ‘oversight and accountability community.’”
Students in the course help develop and implement an “Oversight and Accountability Blog.” The goal for students working on the Oversight and Accountability Blog is “to publish updates on newsworthy developments from the oversight and accountability community as well as more extensive analytical essays about their work from students and, eventually, from practitioners and representatives of those agencies.”
In a somewhat related subject area, Professor Greg Crespi of the SMU Dedman School of Law is offering a course entitled “Presidential Impeachment and Related Topics.” The course:
[I]nvestigates the legal and political issues relating to Presidential impeachment and removal from office, focusing primarily but not exclusively on the current President. During the first ten weeks of the semester the class meets twice each week in a seminar-style format to discuss several assigned books and other current topical materials relating to various legal or political impeachment issues, including related criminal indictment and 25th Amendment issues. By the end of the tenth week, students are asked to choose an impeachment-related topic of appropriate scope, and research and write a 25-30 page law journal-style paper. During the last four weeks of the semester students are asked to briefly present their paper ideas and outlines or preliminary paper drafts for general class discussion and suggestions. The course satisfies the School of Law general writing requirement.
Here is an SSRN link to Professor Crespi’s essay describing the course and its development.
In Professor andre douglass pond cummings’ two credit course, “Hip-Hop and the American Constitution,” University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law students have the opportunity to explore “social justice theory and training” and develop their “interest in representing indigent and underrepresented clients.”
[T]his course includes the study of Fourth Amendment search and seizure law, First Amendment free speech law, Constitutional Intellectual Property protections, as well as Mass Incarceration, Policing, Family law and Corporate law all through the prism of hip hop music and culture . . . In each of these areas, hip hop artists have openly critiqued the top-down development of the law, and this class gives students the opportunity to explore the law from the bottom up, imagining what form the law might take if hip hop artist’s critiques and contributions were taken seriously and adopted.
The final course in this category, Florida A & M College of Law’s “Cannabis Law Social Justice Workshop” is a seminar that focuses on “key legal and policy issues related to racial disparities within every part of the cannabis industry, including the local, state and federal differences in the criminal justice system, economic and business disparities, and social justice implications.” The course also explores “the legislative and technology landscape in this dynamic area and . . . provide(s) opportunities to discuss cutting-edge issues at the intersection of law, cannabis, and social justice.”
Electives that Focus on Specific, Interesting Practice Areas
The six courses in this category explore a wide variety of practice areas of interest to students, including space law, legal operations, patent practice, privacy, and environmental law.
The first of the two space-related courses, the University of Nebraska College of Law’s “Space and Satellite Business Law,” explains the business context in this way:
[U].S. Space policy has favored increasing commercialization for three decades. Over 200 commercial space launches have occurred since the first one in 1989. New commercial activities, including ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station and performing research and experiments for the private sector on the ISS, are becoming routine. Soon human transportation and asteroid mining will be part of the commercial space landscape.
The course reviews and examines “the history of Presidential space policies regarding space commercialization” and the work of “all key federal agencies charged with licensing and regulating the commercial space transportation and satellite industries.” The course also addresses “the statutes that give these agencies this authority and the rules that the agencies administer and enforce” and “The role of NASA.” The largest portion of the course focuses,
. . . on agreements that form relationships in the commercial space industry. These include Launch Service Agreements, Satellite Purchase Agreements, Transponder Sale/Lease Agreements, Non-Disclosure Agreements, Satellite Launch and In-Orbit Insurance contracts, and Hosted Payload Agreements. The course concludes with students engaging in a simulation of a condensed commercial space business transaction – from business plan to launch.
The second, space-related course, the University of Mississippi School of Law’s “International Space Law,” “explores the international laws applicable to outer space.” The course analyzes the “nature and scope of international law . . . vis-à-vis space-related activities.” Specific topics addressed in the course include:
[T]he nature and sources of international space law; binding and non-binding international space law instruments; the progressive development of space law in the United Nations and other international forums; and subjects of current debate, including commercialization of government exploration, space debris remediation, remote proximity operations, space resource ownership and utilization, environmental protection, international security, military uses of outer space, and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
Nova Southeastern University Shepard-Broad College of Law has developed a course focusing on an area of practice expected to grow significantly in the next few years, Legal Operations. In an ABA Journal article authored by University of Indiana Maurer School of Law’s Professor William Henderson, a leading law practice futurist, the author explains, “the milewide gulf between the legal profession’s infinitesimal knowledge of the burgeoning field of legal operations and how that field is going to reshape the entire industry.”
Nova’s course explores the many areas of legal practice in which “one or more of the parties to a transaction or dispute are business enterprises operating using a common set of disciplines and tools to share information, evaluate risk, and make financially-based decisions.” The course:
[P]rovides law students an introduction to these primary tools of quantitative analysis and research, to better understand the needs of their clients, provide additional strategies for structuring transactions and resolving disputes, and adding discipline to the operations of the lawyers’ own law firms. Through simulations, exercises and discussions, students . . . explore how best to apply these tools to the practice of law.
The Southern University Law Center is offering a course focusing on a specific aspect of patent law practice. The law school explains the course, “PTAB Practice and Procedure,” in this way:
[T]he American Invents Act took effect in 2012 creating the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) to, in part, review the patentability of any patent through post-grant review (PGR), inter partes review (IPR) and covered business method (CBM) process. The PTO, as an executive agency, has created a myriad of procedures, rules and regulations to further define the PTAB and its operation. In this course, students . . . learn the statutory, administrative rules and practice of the PTAB process. Students . . . also gain practical tips from expert PTAB practitioners from across the country about patent litigation and its interaction with the new PTAB process.
Professor Victoria Schwartz (no relation) of Pepperdine University School of Law (who also serves as the law school’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs) has developed a privacy law course that focus on the practical applications of privacy law for students interested in careers as business lawyers. She reports that the course explores “issues of workplace privacy from the practical perspective of an attorney advising a business.” Because the area of law is still developing, she reports that course topics “may include electronic surveillance, drug, genetic and, psychological testing, polygraphs, social media issues, and employer control of off-duty activities.” Finally, she explains that, “While familiarizing themselves with the various legal frameworks applicable to workplace privacy, students . . . also develop skills in offering legal advice in areas that are not yet clear under existing law.”
The final course on this list explores a traditional area of law, environmental law, in a new way. Pace University Elizabeth Haub School of Law’s four credit “Environmental Skills and Practice/Clean Water Act” adopts an intriguing approach:
[U]sing a single statute, the Clean Water Act, as a model, this course introduces the student to interpreting and working with complex statutes and regulations. Through a series of exercises and simulations, it explores basic administrative and regulatory processes, such as rule making, permit issuance, and enforcement. It explores how the three branches of the federal government, together with federal and state governments and advocates for industries and nongovernmental organizations, interact to develop environmental laws and policy and the role of lawyers in that process.
Final Comments for This Blog Post
As these courses reflect, in an effort to produce excellent lawyers who deeply understand the law, law professors continue to create courses that explore cutting-edge legal topics and fields.
My own reaction to the list of courses above is a desire to travel around the country taking all these courses. I do not believe my boss would approve.