The twilight of the generalist law degree is here.
As Peter Lattman reported last week, New York University School of Law is retrofitting its third-year curriculum to allow for increased specialization. Options include advanced study in areas like tax or corporate law, working in Washington at a federal agency or foreign study in Buenos Aires, Paris or Shanghai.
While the study-abroad aspect of the program has received much of the attention, the heart of the proposal is an important shift toward specialization.
In the traditional model of legal education, schools offer a general professional degree in law. No majors or concentrations. Schools provide a strong foundation of legal analysis and grounding in the common law, on the assumption that law firms will teach new associates the specifics of what they need to practice law, whether that means drafting deal documents or taking a deposition.
In the emerging model, law students must add on a degree, certificate or other indication of readiness to engage in a particular practice area or industry. N.Y.U.’s strategy committee described this goal as providing “professional pathways that prepare students to operate in a world that demands increasing specialization.” (Full disclosure: I was a visiting professor of law at N.Y.U. in 2010.)
Law schools, like most established enterprises, change only when they have to. In this case, the ripples of change arising from the segmentation of the market for legal services have been felt by corporate clients, law firms and law schools.