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Weird Electives at Law Schools Raise Questions

In today’s struggling legal industry, law students are still forced to take courses that many would never think twice about enrolling in if not in law school. These classes are usually taken in the third year of law school and include some very interesting ones to say the least.

One such class can be found at Stanford University Law School and is called “Legal Aspects of Autonomous Driving.” This class studies the emerging market for self-driving cars, according to the Wall Street Journal. In the spring at Harvard Law School, students can take “Understanding Obama,” which will be taught by a former professor of the president, Charles Ogletree.

At the University of Michigan Law School, the class called “Bloodfeuds,” can be taken. The dean at the school, Evan Caminker, said that the class discusses warring cultures in Icelandic times. Caminker also said that the class has helped students with their negotiation skills.

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“They recognize they need to be armed with the necessary skills to do well in litigation battles,” he said.

As the legal industry continues to struggle and tuition continues to increase, some have suggested getting rid of the third year of law school. This would mean that those unnecessary classes would also be removed from the docket. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia visited the University of Wyoming and he told students, “Professors like certain subjects that they’re writing a book on, so they teach a course in that subject.”

Chief Justice John Roberts has made fun of law schools’ love of the odd classes.

“Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar,” Roberts said during a speech he gave at a judicial conference in 2011.

Deans of law schools defend the untraditional courses, saying that lawyers need to have specializations.

“The future of law is actually about people who have multiple skill sets,” said Frank Wu, dean of the University of California’s San Francisco-based Hastings College of the Law. “The fact that something looks obscure doesn’t mean it’s impractical.”

Law firms do not seem to agree with that sentiment though. Robert Carangelo, the hiring partner for Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, said, “If law schools want to employ the vast majority of graduating students then they should be offering mostly mainstream classes. I agree with Justice Scalia 100%: Stick to the basics.”

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