Law school aims to forge links to other disciplines

It may be getting harder than it used to be to find a lawyer at Yale Law School.

As a legal education becomes increasingly common as preparation for careers in fields other than law, the Law School is expanding its programming and luring new faculty with the goal of reaching out to students interested in pursuing other professions. The phenomenon, which Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh terms “inter-professionalism,” has always existed to a certain extent, but the Law School is now deliberately promoting it for the first time.

“The J.D. has become something of an all-purpose training degree for all professions,” Koh said. “If we are producing so many students who are going into these areas without formal inter-professional programs, why shouldn’t we develop those programs more formally?”

With new centers and positions, the Law School is focusing on the interactions between law and business, public health, media and the environment. The latter two received boosts recently from the appointments of Linda Greenhouse, who covered the U.S. Supreme Court for The New York Times for 30 years, and Doug Kysar, a leading young scholar in environmental law who will join Yale’s faculty in the fall. New centers include the Law and Media Program at Yale Law School, the Yale Law School Center for the Study of Corporate Law and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

The moves come at a time when students appear eager to diversify their studies. Whereas the past decade saw years with as few as eight or 10 joint-degree students, last year there were 29 and this year there are 27.

The term “inter-professionalism,” Koh said, is a riff on interdisciplinary, the focus of a movement that dominated legal pedagogy from the 1960s through the 1980s. The interdisciplinary approach aimed to inform legal studies with multiple explanations of human behavior.

One of the pioneers in the law and economics movement, Guido Calabresi ’53 LAW ’58, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and a former dean of Yale Law School, said a legal education trains people in the way people in America make decisions, so it is no accident that Yale Law alumni have risen to leadership roles in multiple fields, he said.

“Law will help you think about things that will help you be a leader, whether you’re writing books or writing television scripts or trying to be the head of Goldman Sachs,” he said.

Koh agreed that the Law School has long groomed leaders in fields besides law, but he said the institutional support for inter-professionalism is a new step.

“It’s an old tradition, not a new one, so we’re trying more explicitly to recognize and support it,” Koh said.

Kysar said inter-professionalism, as the heir to the interdisciplinary movement, has an exciting potential to tighten the link between the academy and the working world and could help combat the perception that universities are becoming less relevant to society.

“It comes in a long line of various efforts to get beyond the silo problem in universities,” he said. Yale’s professional schools “are all units of the academy that have the dual role of study and research but also of training students for many applied and concrete social-service settings.”

Law has always interfaced with different careers, but the importance of inter-professionalism in the 21st century could relate to shifts in the job market.

“The days are over when we expect a graduate of our school to go into one job and to hold it for 60 years,” Koh said.

He estimated that between 40 and 50 current law students are interested in journalism, for example. One of them is Jonathan Finer LAW ’09, who has been a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post and is currently the instructor this semester of a residential-college seminar titled “The Craft of Foreign Correspondence.”

From the perspective of journalists learning about law, Finer said, a legal education could be increasingly useful to a journalist today as the media evolves to emphasize expertise and specificity. From the other end, part of an attorney’s job today is developing a media strategy, he said.

“More and more careers are broken up into four- or five-year chunks,” Finer said. “You see more people crossing boundaries in multiple fields. Very few people go into a job right out of college or grad school and expect to stay there for 20 or 30 years.”

So for students looking for a degree that can be as versatile as their career may be varied, law school is an appealing option, Kysar said.

“Students who are going to law school are doing so precisely because they view a law degree as very flexible, which will allow them to move through different careers and different circles and not have to be tied to a desk churning out legal briefs somewhere,” he said.

The adaptability of a J.D. in the job market is especially prominent in the minds of students entering fields other than law on the eve of their graduation. One of those students, Gregory Ruben LAW ’08, cross-enrolled in classes at the School of Management while in law school and will be joining Goldman Sachs after graduation.

“As Dean Koh reminded my class in our first week of law school: ‘A legal education is a foundation for life in a law firm but also for public service, entrepreneurship or finance,’ ” he said.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    This focus on the interdisciplinary is also reflected in the hiring of faculty at top law schools. Recently, for example, of Harvard Law School’s recent entry-level hires, 6 out of 7 had (or ere candidates for PhDs. Lateral hires such as Yale's hiring of Prof. Christine Jolls from Harvard and the hiring of Kathryn Spier by Harvard from Northwestern both MIT Ph.D. degree holders in economics are examples of interdisciplinary scholars.

    Jolls, with a J.D. degree and having clerked at the Supreme Court and in a Federal Circuit Court also fits the career path of traditional law professors, but Spiers who has published very important and influential papers in the field of law and economics (as has Jolls) though holding no law degree or clerkship perhaps reflects the rise of interdiscipinary scholarship in law faculty career paths even more clearly.

    In fact each has published papers in what many think is the top economics Journal, the American Economic Review or AER. Both are interdisciplinary scholars who have the talent, publications and credentials to be top scholars in each their fields -- law school scholarship is better for the addition of them and other such high quality interdisciplinary scholars.

  • Anonymous

    Spiers is a 1985 Yale B.A., summa cum laude.