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Letter from the Dean

spring 2006

Dear Alumni and Friends of Boston College Law School:

The big story at the Law School this year is curriculum reform. We are adding an LL.M. degree. We have revised the first-year course of study. We are moving to a two-year planning cycle for seminars and small courses. And we are devoting increased attention to joint degree programs with Boston College’s schools of arts and sciences, business, education, and social work. These changes are not symptoms of a passing fancy. They are a conscious adjustment to changes in law and society.

Since 1929 the Law School has offered just one degree, the first or “undergraduate” degree in law. It used to be called an LL.B., or bachelor of laws, back when you didn’t need a college degree to attend law school. (The second-level degree has always been called the master of laws, or LL.M.) Legal education gradually became more professionalized. By 1953 we began to admit only college graduates. In 1969 we upgraded the name of our basic degree to J.D., or juris doctor, the term used by most American law schools. This year we decided to add an LL.M. degree, which will be offered principally to international students, beginning in 2007.

There is a terrific appetite for knowledge of American law outside the United States. The reason, of course, is that we have the world’s dominant economy and most influential culture. Law governs our capital markets, trade relations, intellectual property, environmental and labor policy; countries that want to do business with us need to understand our way of life. Law also protects rights to freedom, equality, privacy, and fair process that are widely admired and (at least in democratic countries) imitated. For these reasons, we should expect to see a real demand by international students for American legal education, like the demand for science in our medical and engineering schools.

In much of the world, though, law is still an undergraduate major. Foreign attorneys in the UK, France, Mexico, Japan, and other countries move into the profession by studying law in college and apprenticing for a few years. We wouldn’t accept these folks for the first stage of their preparation; they would be too young and intellectually immature. They, on the other hand, would not often apply to our J.D. program because they have already had four years of legal education by the time they graduate from college. What they really want is a briefer and more focused course of study that teaches them how Americans practice the law they are interested in. Judges in Japan may want to focus on our criminal law. Tax lawyers in Germany, intellectual property lawyers in Argentina, and human rights lawyers in Nigeria will have other interests. Our LL.M. program will serve them all by allowing them to take 30 credits in our upper-level curriculum. We are at work now on the details of the program. If all goes according to plan, we will admit our first class in Fall 2007.

First-Year Course of Study
The first year of law school has varied so little over the past two centuries that it deserves mention in the same breath as Hubble’s and Planck’s constants. Its backbone has been courses in Procedure, Contracts, Torts, Property, and (usually) Criminal Law. The interesting thing about these courses is that they all deal with law made by courts. (Procedure is about how we bring cases before judges. Criminal Law, though it is statutory, is a codification of English common law.) One hundred, or even eighty, years ago that was how law was made. Today there is a lot more of it, and most of it is made by legislatures (statutes) and administrative agencies (regulations). This explosion in lawmaking has led to a corresponding increase in the number of elective courses we offer to students, and, as the importance of electives has grown, it was inevitable that the combined weight would compress the first-year curriculum. That is exactly what happened. We recently reduced Torts, Contracts, and Property to four hours and made room to add Criminal Law. We might even allow an elective.

I should add that the changes are welcome from an administrative point of view. Five-hour class blocks do not fit neatly into the traditional semester mold. Some of them sprawl into February; others run in a discontinuous fashion throughout the year. This has made it difficult to hire visitors—we have had to take them for a whole year even though they only work part of the time. The new four-credit courses allow us to return to neat Fall and Spring semesters, just like the upper classes.

Course Compression
The great variety of electives that we offer 2Ls and 3Ls has the natural effect of reducing our average class size. In the first year, when everyone takes the same courses, we can fit 265 students into three sections. In the upper years students go a hundred different ways, into courses on Hedge Funds, Tax Policy, Copyright, Employee Benefits, English Legal History, and so on. This is a good thing, for a number of reasons. The growth of electives is necessary if we are to offer a full view of the American legal system. It also responds to the demands of students, whose career interests today are as varied as the legal landscape. And smaller classes are a refreshing change from the huge groups featured in The Paper Chase and familiar to anyone who attended law school a generation ago. There is no doubt that students learn better with more individual attention. But there is also a lower limit to class size. When the demand for highly specialized instruction is only a handful of students each year, it makes sense to offer courses in alternate years. Interested students, if we give them a two-year class schedule, can take these courses in at least one of their last two years.

There is another important benefit to this compression. The job of a faculty member has changed a lot in the last few decades. We expect much more in the way of scholarship at every stage of a person’s career—for appointment, for tenure and promotion, for awarding endowed chairs. In this regard we are like the other preeminent law schools in the country. But in recent years we have had to fight a little harder to attract the very best faculty candidates, because our average teaching load has left people a little less time to fulfill our publication expectations. Course compression is a way to address this issue without forcing students to make any real sacrifices in the courses they want to take or the faculty they want to study with.

Joint Programs
I have mentioned elsewhere how our system of laws expands in response to changes in fields like science, finance, and culture. Within universities this interdependence has driven law schools into a variety of joint degree programs. At Boston College we offer several. The most popular is our JD/MBA, a four-year dual-degree program with the Carroll School of Management. We also offer JD/MEd and JD/MA combinations with the Lynch School of Education, and a JD/MSW with the Graduate School of Social Work. Though it is premature to announce any results, I need to compliment our Educational Policy Committee and individual faculty members who are at work this year on reconfiguring some of these programs, and on creating others with cognate disciplines in the College of Arts and Sciences. Being part of a great university affords us some opportunities that we are fortunate to have.

* * * * *

There’s a natural human inclination to think (call it Newton’s fourth law) that things stand still when we’re not looking at them. This is not true at the Law School. It’s a very different, and I like to think better, place than it was just last year.

John H. Garvey, Dean