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Educating The Next Generation of Law Faculty: Part 3

Shaping the Future of Legal Education

While Columbia remains one of the leading producers of law faculty, its influence in the field of legal pedagogy is also far-reaching. Its innovative curriculum is only one example of this. Columbia law graduates are shaping the future of legal education through the development of ground-breaking courses that reflect and anticipate changes in the practice of law.

Thirty years ago, McGill University became the first Canadian university to offer its students a choice between a common law or civil law degree, or a combined degree - a reflection of the dual nature of the Canadian legal system. Students also were required to take basic courses in the alternative legal tradition. Recently, as described by Ms. Bédard in her article, McGill's faculty has completely reformed the curriculum to fully integrate the two legal traditions, culminating in every graduate receiving a dual degree. Is it an accident that more than 10 percent of its faculty hold Columbia graduate degrees?

"We're now in the third year of our revised program, with the first graduating class completing their degrees this spring," said Prof. van Praagh, who teaches torts and extra- contractual obligations (the civil law term for torts), and thus has helped implement the transformation of McGill's teaching program. "We don't pretend [common law and civil law] are the same, but there are certain thematic questions that arise no matter what the legal tradition," she said.

As for the relevance of the McGill model to other institutions, Prof. Strauss noted: "What McGill is doing is genuinely exciting in the context of globalization. A lawyer in New York is as likely to be conducting transactions with Belgium as with California. The McGill law school is arranging its educational structure to make students equally at home with civilian law and common law. Lawyers in the European Union will have an equivalent need."


Professor Peter Strauss

Under the leadership of Professor James C. Hathaway '82 LL.M., '90 J.S.D., the University of Michigan is the first law school in the nation to require its students to take a course in international law.

"Virtually every area of legal practice is today characterized by some interaction between domestic and international law," said Prof. Hathaway, who co-founded the transnational law course. "It was important to us that this be a mandatory course. It conveys an important message that the international dimensions of law are an integral part of legal knowledge, and it is exactly the unwilling or uninterested minority that should be required to take such a course."

 Perhaps Prof. Sheppard - who thoroughly enjoyed practice but found himself drawn to academia - sums it up best: "I began law school having absolutely no intention of teaching. But I had some outstanding professors and took a lot of courses, such as Jurisprudence, Legal Philosophy, and International Law, that led me to question that resolve. These experiences made me focus on more than just making money; they made me think about how to make the law better."