Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., has plans to distinguish itself when it achieves its independence next year. They include a more practical approach to legal education and an international focus.
“We’re going to do things different,” interim dean Gary Gildin said. “The first year of law school has been essentially the same for more than 150 years. With our new curriculum we plan to change that model, offering a fresh, cutting-edge alternative for career-minded students.”
The American Bar Association in June approved the university’s plan to split its law school into two separate programs. Penn State began offering legal training in 2000, when it acquired the then stand-alone Dickinson School of Law. By 2006, the university was offering law classes both in Carlisle and at the main campus in University Park, Pa.
University officials unveiled plans to split the two campuses in 2012. The idea was that diversifying their approaches would broaden their appeal amid declining enrollment.
Dickinson’s curriculum changes will apply to students starting next fall. In additional to traditional first-year courses like criminal law and torts, students will take a new class called Problem Solving 1: The Lawyer and Client. The class is intended to prepare them to work with a range of clients, from individuals to corporations, and will feature intake interviews with clients arranged by a homeless shelter. The idea here is to develop students’ communication skills and teach them to understand the people behind the case law.
Another new requirement will be Practicing Law in a Global World: Context and Competencies. The course will introduce students to international law but also expose them to career paths including criminal prosecution or midsized law firms. It will emphasize nonlegal skills students will need in order to succeed—financial literacy, business development and problem-solving.
“There are a whole set of skills that aren’t necessarily law, but that are used in law,” Gildin said. “We’re incorporating those into the curriculum.”
Dickinson will organize its elective courses according to legal career tracks, rather than by area of law. Finally, students will have to complete 12 credits of practical-skills courses—six of them in a clinic, externship or the school’s “practice in residence” program held in Washington and Harrisburg, Pa.
To ensure that each student obtains a “quality practice-setting opportunity,” Gildin said, incoming enrollment will be limited to 75 students.
“We are proud to start a new chapter in the 180-year history of Dickinson Law,” he said. “By remaining a part of the Penn State family with separate ABA accreditation, we have both the autonomy and the resources in place to train and support the next generation of first-rate Dickinson Law alumni.”