U of M Law Adds Flexibility Into Curriculum

By Andy Meek

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law has approved changes to the school’s curriculum that go into effect next year and reflect the changing nature of the legal profession.

Starting with the class that enters in the fall of 2012, students will have more flexibility in classes they take earlier in their education.

In the fall of 2009, law school dean Kevin Smith tasked the law school’s curriculum committee with reviewing the curriculum and recommending changes, if necessary, according to David Romantz, associate dean for academic affairs.

Romantz said the curriculum had not been given a comprehensive review in years and that Smith’s interest was in making the curriculum better reflect changes in the field of law in recent years.

“For many, many years, most law schools were geared toward a traditional litigation model,” Romantz said. “But certainly in modern practice, there’s a lot more transactional work, and even within litigation there’s a lot more alternative to litigation such as negotiation and mediation.

“And so this new curriculum sort of reflects modern practice much more so than our old curriculum did.”

It does that by introducing flexibility into the process earlier. Under the old curriculum, the school had a very rigidly sequenced second-year curriculum that students had to work through in a specific order.

With the new curriculum, instead of requiring a particular class in some aspects students can now choose from a menu of courses.

“So, for example, students after the first year have to take two courses in a statutory course menu and two courses in a practice foundation course menu,” Romantz said. “And within each of those are five choices.”

The new curriculum bolsters the first-year curriculum by adding constitutional law to the mix. The only required second year course is a class on evidence.

In the second and third years, students must take a skills course, an advanced writing course, a course on professional responsibility, two courses in a statutory course menu and two courses in a practice foundation course menu.

According to the university, the first-year curriculum provides the building blocks of a legal education, introducing students to core areas of law. Second- and third-year students continue their training through a mix of required and elective courses.

“The new curriculum puts us in line with the majority of law schools while maintaining a rigorous curriculum,” Romantz said.

It also recognizes the advent of broad changes in the legal profession, including the growing number of options by which parties locked in a dispute can resolve it short of pleading their case in a courtroom.

The role of mediation, for example, is growing in prominence in legal circles both locally and statewide.

More attorneys are obtaining mediation certification. Even two former Shelby County Circuit Court judges, Lorrie Ridder and Rhynette Hurd, have gone that route. They opened a mediation practice in East Memphis earlier this year.

“All this is to give students a little bit more freedom to pick the track they think they’re going to want to practice in, whether transactional or litigation or something different,” Romantz said. “We’re excited about it. We think it’s probably long overdue, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it’s all going to work out.”