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Expanding Curriculum: Part 5

Part 5: The last decade

A self study undertaken by the faculty in 1990 led to tinkering with the Foundation Curriculum, but more significantly pointed toward the need to examine and enrich the upper class curriculum. Still existing was the perennial need to find a balance between more theoretical courses and those that provided students with substantive knowledge and practical experience.

The early 1990s saw the appointment of faculty members in many areas, especially those where law had the potential for greatest change: family/gender, environment, critical race theory, labor, and international law. In fact, as technology, trade, and investment began to erode national barriers, an international element seeped into many courses, even those not officially categorized under "international law."

Legal history is another area where the Law School made great strides in strengthening its curriculum. The Law School hired two scholars in 2001 to join those already on the faculty, making Columbia's program one of the strongest in the country. The study of legal history, which lay dormant at most law schools for the past 40 years, was increasingly seen as an important intellectual apparatus in which to understand the law, whether it be torts, gender law, or contracts.

Other areas, where Columbia had been traditionally strong, were bolstered by recruiting faculty in criminal law, corporate law, constitutional law, administrative law, and taxation.

The creation of new centers and institutes of law blossomed during the 1990s. Among them were the Centers for Law and Culture, Korean Legal Studies, Law and Philosophy, and European Legal Studies. In addition to their own activities, the centers also drove the creation of new courses and seminars, such as Modern Legal Philosophy and European Community Law. The interdisciplinary nature of some centers led also to the creation of collaborative seminars, such as Multi-culturalism and Sovereignty, which involved professors of political science and philosophy as well as law.

Clinical education also grew in the 1990s, building on earlier programs that dated back to the 1970s and '80s, such as the Child Advocacy Clinic. The newcomers included the Mediation Clinic, Human Rights Clinic, the Environmental Law Clinic, and one called Lawyering in the Digital Age, which taught students how to use technology in their lawyering. A unique hands-on course was Deals, which gave students firsthand experience in considering the construction of complex transactions. 

Like the clinics, the Profession of Law Course (POL), established in 1993, was designed to give students practical legal experience - in this case, in handling the ethical dilemmas they might face as lawyers. POL, a week-long series of seminars and role playing, is mandatory for third-year students, who arrive on campus a week early to take it. Columbia also was one of the first law schools in the country to establish a pro bono requirement, which is overseen by the Center for Public Interest Law. As is the case with international law, a public interest perspective is felt in many seminars, such as Constitutional Restraints on Criminal Law Enforcement and Advanced Labor and Employment Law. 

Responding to concerns that students were graduating with inadequate writing skills, the Law School strengthened its writing requirements for upper class students. No longer did journal or moot court work count toward the major writing credit. Instead, candidates for the J.D. were required to write a major paper whose topic, development, and revision was supervised by a faculty member. Another shorter paper was also required if no journal work was done. It could be an ordinary course paper, brief, or other research, but it, too, had to be overseen by faculty. The goal was to put students under intense supervision so that, by the time of graduation, they had produced a substantial piece of coherent and well-researched writing.