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Ahead of the Curve: Mueller Crash Course, Clooneys on Campus

Welcome back to Ahead of the Curve. I’m Karen Sloan, legal education editor at Law.com, and I’ll be your host for this weekly look at innovation and notable developments in legal education.

Today, I’m chatting with Stetson law professor Ellen Podgor about her upcoming course focused on the Mueller investigation, and what students can learn from the two-year inquiry. Next up is a look at Columbia Law School’s upcoming red-carpet moment, with George and Amal Clooney coming to campus. Finally, I’ll look at what law schools are doing—or not doing—to teach legal operations. Read on!

Please share your thoughts and feedback with me at ksloan@alm.com or on Twitter:@KarenSloanNLJ




Mueller Time (In The Classroom)

I’m always on the lookout for new law courses that piggyback off of current events, so it was fitting that I caught wind of an upcoming class at Stetson University College of Law based on the Muller investigation on the very day the long awaited—if redacted—report was released. 

I rang up professor Ellen Podgor, who kindly took a break from reading the 448-page document, to tell me more about the course, which is a one-credit class that will begin in November. It turns out that Podgor and seven other co-authors are hard at work on a new casebook also based on the Mueller investigation, which should come out ahead of her new class. Podgor teaches white-collar crime and told me she had been following the investigation closely when it dawned on her that the inquiry had teaching potential. Here’s Podgor:

“One of the things I realized about the whole investigation is what a great capstone course it would make. It has the actual appointment of the special counsel—which has administrative law questions. It has constitutional law questions—who can be indicted, if anyone? It has criminal law and procedure questions, including, ‘How do you obtain jurisdiction over individuals and companies, in the United States, and outside the United States, and indictments into Russia?’ It has those extraterritoriality issues. It’s got sentencing issues in it. It’s got plea agreement issues. And it has a lot of legal ethics issues in there also, in terms of what can counsel actually say about a client of theirs, and what happens when a search is done on a law firm.”

So the appeal, from Podgor’s perspective, is that the course breaks down the typical silos from which law is taught and give students a real-world look at how all these areas of law work in conjunction. Plus, students tend to engage more with subjects that are ripped from the headlines, so to speak. From that perspective, I was wholly unsurprised to learn from Podgor that there’s already a long waiting list for the class, which won’t even start for another seven months. Which brought me to my next question for Podgor, which was whether she worried that the Mueller investigation will be old news by November and that excitement and interest in the topic will have waned by then. But Podgor said she’s confident students will still be interested when the class kicks off, in part because it’s unusual to be able to learn about so many legal topics by studying one scenario.

Podgor plans to use the forthcoming Mueller casebook in the class and hasn’t yet decided whether students will also be required to read the full report.

My thoughts: I think Podgor has it right when she says the real value in this class is the ability to cover so much legal ground in the span of one investigation—all the better when the subject matter is fresh, as opposed to reading cases that date back 100 or more years. (Not that those cases aren’t important, but imagine how intelligently these students will be able to discuss the Mueller investigation networking event or a party. I mean, who really wants to discuss McCulloch v. Maryland in those settings?)



The Clooneys Come to Campus

Some devoted readers may recall that I moved from New York to California last fall (the West Coast is great, by the way.) Which means that unfortunately I won’t get to see George and Amal Clooney deliver remarks at Columbia Law School on Thursday to launch their TrialWatch initiative. This is a bummer. Covering the law school beat is great, but, alas, it offers few opportunities for celebrity sighting.

So here’s the scoop: The Clooney Foundation for Justice unveiled TrialWatch in DecemberThe program is a partnership with Columbia’s Human Rights Clinic and the American Bar Association. (Recall that human rights attorney Amal Clooney teaches at the Manhattan law school as a visiting professor and fellow.) TrialWatch aims to monitor trials across the globe that pose a high risk of running afoul of human rights protections, gather information about compliance with fair trial standards, and advocate for adoption of those standards. Eventually, the project will create a global justice index, rating countries on the fairness of their trial system. The clinic will help train trial monitors and the ABA will help recruit them.

Both the Clooneys are slated to open up Thursday’s events, followed by a panel discussion moderated by none other than New York Times globetrotting opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof. Panelists include Microsoft president Brad Smith, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger; ABA president Bob Carlson; and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have no doubt it will be an interesting and inspiring discussion. I just won’t be there to see it …

Law Schools, Meet Legal Ops

My colleague Dan Clark wrote an interesting story last week looking at law schools and the world of legal operations—which, if you are unfamiliar, basically refers to the processes and business aspects of in-house legal departments. Legal ops is one of those relatively new areas of the legal profession that is getting a lot of buzz and is supposedly an area of significant job growth, so I was interested to see whether law schools have gotten into the game yet. The short answer is not so much. I asked Clark to give me his assessment, and here’s what he told me:

"I'm not sure that corporate legal departments are reaching out to the law schools to ask them to teach operations. The professor at Vanderbilt I spoke to said even as legal operations evolves there are plenty of resources such as CLOC the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium to keep up with what best practices are for legal operations functions."

That Vanderbilt professor is Cat Moon, who is the director of innovation design in the school’s program in law and innovation. She’s currently creating Vanderbilt’s first course in legal operations. But there doesn’t seem to be much else out there on the law school front, at least not at the moment. That seems likely to change in the not-too-distant future, though. According to CLOC, the average compensation for people running legal operations is $163,000, which is not too shabby. And people with law degrees tend to make more than those in that role who don’t. Put another way, these are the kinds of jobs that law schools would love to have alumni take on. So I predict we will see more focus on legal operations on law campuses pretty soon.

Extra Credit Reading

Part II of my series on declining bar pass rates—The Big Fail—looks at what law schools are doing to reverse the trends and hemp graduates pass the test.

Law professors had plenty to say about the Mueller report, and they took to Twitter to share their thoughts.

Albany Law School is teaming up with SUNY Polytechnic Institute for a new clinicthat will give law, business and engineering students the opportunity to work together on product launches.

The national average on the Multistate Bar Exam crept up for the February 2019 exam, marking the first increase since 2013.

Thanks for reading Ahead of the Curve. Sign up for the newsletter and check out past issues here.

I’ll be back next week with more news and updates on the future of legal education. Until then, keep in touch at ksloan@alm.com