ETL Ignite: Dickinson Law’s New Curriculum and its Focus on Student Outcomes

Guest Post

This post is one of a series that stems from our 4th Annual Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Conference. The author(s) presented a six-minute Ignite-style presentation at the conference that discussed the innovations and outcomes of their school’s classes, programs, or curricula—or within the realm of legal education more broadly. The videos will be available here and in our Resources section as they become available.

In 2014, Penn State received permission to operate its two law school campuses as two separate, fully-accredited ABA law schools. Penn State’s Dickinson Law, which was founded in 1834 and merged with Penn State in 1997, responded by reexamining its curriculum to see whether it was meeting the needs of 21st Century law students. After conversations with a variety of stakeholders that included students, alumni, clients, employers, and judges, the faculty added three new required courses to the curriculum, increased to 12 the required experiential credits (6 of which have to be in clinics or internships), and reorganized the curriculum into “The Lawyer As” structure, which encourages students to focus on the outcomes they want.

In this Ignite talk from the 2015 ETL Conference, we talk about the new Problem Solving I course, which is a required course, taught during the 1L Fall Semester. This course introduces students to a standard problem-solving methodology that they can use in a variety of settings, including transactional, litigation, and governmental. This course also stresses the importance of fact gathering. Students participate in five simulations, including an interview each student conducts during the second week of law school.

We also talk about the background of Dickinson Law’s curricular changes and about the new “Contexts” and “Competencies” courses that will be taught to Dickinson Law students. The Contexts course focuses on students’ professional formation and includes units on the legal profession, what clients want, what employers want, and specific career paths, and helps students examine their interests, strengths, and skills. This course also examines the global context in which law graduates will work, including the impact of globalization on the law and on clients and lawyers. The Competencies course focuses on skills and characteristics that are useful for lawyers, beyond traditional legal doctrine and legal skills. The “extra-legal competencies” included in the course range from technical skills such as business knowledge and how to read a financial statement to personal skills such as teamwork and cultural competency.