rethink(ip) education and IP

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at April 26, 2005 06:12 AM

A number of weeks ago, during rethink(ip) aloud podcast #1, Doug ranted about his view that intellectual property law classes should be a part of the mandatory curriculum in law schools.  I played (at the time) devil's advocate...arguing that (essentially) shouldn't EVERY discipline demand that their course be a requirement.

However...the more I rethink about it, the more I think Doug is right. 

U.S. law schools (as far as I know) nationwide typically follow the same general curriculum blueprint..two semesters of real property, two semesters of contracts, two semesters of torts, etc.  Of course, law school doesn't teach you jack about the practice of teaches you how to pass the bar exam (otherwise why would you torture law students with things that they'll never see...from fertile octogenarians to the rule against perpetuities).

Perhaps my rant is slanted because I practice in a specialty.  Perhaps not.  I'm going to have to be honest with you...I have never once needed anything I learned in my real property class.  Not once.  Two completely wasted semesters of my life.  Some might argue that they weren't wasted...they helped me pass the bar exam.  Bull hockey!!!  I never took trusts and estates either, but the bar exam prep course I took managed to teach me that topic just fine.  Could I have survived without ever taking a real property class?  Probably.  I am sure there are others out there who have never used torts, contracts, etc...for them, did it really make sense to take a whole year of said topics?  I doubt it.

Why not rethink law school...and paint legal education with a broader stroke?  Drop this "Real Property I & II" nonsense and instead teach a Real Property class, and for those who desire it, an Advanced Real Property class.  Do the same thing for (gasp) Torts and Contracts.  Then, require the teaching of at least a cursory intellectual property class and other single semester "required" classes (feel free to suggest your favorites in the comments).   

Why intellectual property?  Do I really need to go there?  I would venture to say that an average attorney stumbles upon more intellectual property issues in a given year than real property issues, yet we are stuck in the past...requiring two semesters of real property but not requiring any coursework in intellectual property.  Lunacy...pure lunacy.

Perhaps this is all part of the "System"...graduate law students who are incapable of practicing law competently.  Perfect fodder for the legal sweat shops where their client contact and the rate at which they incur experience is carefully controlled.  Of course, that's another can of be opened later.

The comments are open for your...comments.

[Thanks for the encouragement Denise]

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I have a unique vantage point of legal education. I have already been through the education system in engineering and had a successful career in the industry. I switched careers and began working in the legal industry and then began...

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Rumor Says:

April 26, 2005 03:25 AM

God, I hope I never do encounter the rule against perpetuities in practice.

Matt Buchanan Says:

April 26, 2005 09:22 AM

Steve -- nice rant. I was just speaking yesterday with our associate about law school and the uselessness of some of the classes.

You raise a good question...if we're going to rethink law school, why should intellectual property factor in as a primary component of the rethunk curriculum (yes, yes...I finally said 'rethunk'. Someone had to do it...)?

How's this for a reason...heard it on CNBC on the way in this morning...but its really a message we hear over and over again, day after day, from source after source:

In the future, intellectual property will represent the majority of the US economy, with a bullet. Real property law will continue to be important (there will always be land to buy and sell, and infringe upon...unless the unthinkable happens), but intellectual property is the growth area. As a result, more and more attorneys will be faced with intellectual property issues in the future, and to represent their cleints adequately, they'll need to be able to identify those issues and, I think, discuss them intelligently.

How's that for a reason?

CC Says:

April 27, 2005 02:03 PM

When I was in law school (at Boalt) a few years ago, my first-year Property class was taught by a prof who had been busy rethinking the Real Property course. So instead of getting caught up in the minutiae of estates in land and real property transactions and all the other stuff that makes the traditional Real Property course largely irrelevant to modern lawyers, he focused the course around the notion of institutions and regimes by which rights to resources are managed -- with the idea that "resources" includes real property, personal property, and IP. (Yes, we actually read a patent case.) Some of the course material seemed odd at the time, but in hindsight, I think this way of teaching property did a lot more to prepare me for thinking about the issues of who owns what.

Stephen M. Nipper Says:

April 27, 2005 02:49 PM

That sounds like a great way to teach real property.

Steve Veenema Says:

April 28, 2005 09:38 AM

Speaking as someone who is currently preparing for a Property exam (at Suffolk Law School in Boston), but spends his days working in the real world with copyright and intellectual property issues, I can definitely see value in making IP a requirement, and in integrating it more into the first-year Property class. However, I don't know that it makes sense to view every aspect of your legal education that is not eventually utilized in practice as a worthless waste of a semester (or two). From where I'm sitting, the beginnings of law school are about developing an intellectual framework for understanding the fundamental legal relationships that have developed over time. Losing an understanding of the distinctions between contracts, trusts, agency, bailment, etc... is to lose some of the basis for our system of law. While I agree that few of us may apply that knowledge in any professional capacity, I don't think that the opportunity for professional application should be the determining factor for what is taught in law school.

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