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Transitioning to Law School Specialization

In the traditional legal education system, law schools offered a general, professional law degree that has no major or concentrations. The curriculum consisted of a strong foundation of legal analysis and grounding in common law with the assumption the law firms will teach new associates what they specifically need to know to practice law.

Rather than a general law juris doctor (J.D.), a new model of law school is adding a degree, certificate, and other indications of readiness to engage in a particular practice area or industry of law. According to NYU’s strategy committee, this will provide “professional pathways that prepare students to operate in a world that demands increasing specialization”.

With the arising segmentation of all professional fields, law schools must change their curriculum to better prepare their students for the workforce. Law graduates are expected to be fully prepared to work in big law firms, and how to “think like a lawyer,” and the recent challenge for law schools has been to figure out what exactly students need to know.

New York University Law School is one of the schools that is shifting to a specialization curriculum. For first year students, a mandatory lawyering program will include a module on business and financial literacy. The upper level courses will offer introductions to statistics, accounting, deals, and quantitative analysis.  The L.L.M for tax is an example for the shift toward specialization of legal education.The tax L.L.M builds on foundational law school training, and a breadth and depth of tax knowledge needed for a competitive workforce.

Promising, growing practice areas are governmental relations, energy, healthcare, telecommunications, and intellectual property, and would benefit to have associates with specific specializations. However, a critical question is whether or not there will be a sufficient amount of demand for these specialized law graduates in the future. As specialization becomes more common among law schools, the next step will to make the J.D. a two year degree with an optional third year for specialization.

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