Law Schools

Law Profs Defend Unusual Electives on Disputes from the Icelandic Age, Autonomous Driving

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A new emphasis on practical law school classes is increasing focus on quirky course offerings.

The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) takes a look at a few of them. At the University of California at Berkeley, law students practice deep breathing while learning the Chinese practice of Qi Gong. At Stanford, law students can take “Legal Aspects of Autonomous Driving.” At the University of Michigan, law students taking a “Bloodfeuds” class learn about feuding cultures in the Icelandic age.

Justice Antonin Scalia has advised law students to take more traditional classes. In an October visit to the University of Wyoming, Scalia said: “Take the bread-and-butter courses. Do not take, ‘law and women,’ do not take ‘law and poverty,’ do not take ‘law and anything.’ “

Robert Carangelo, hiring partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, told the Wall Street Journal that Scalia had a point. “If law schools want to employ the vast majority of graduating students then they should be offering mostly mainstream classes,” he said. “I agree with Justice Scalia 100 percent: Stick to the basics.”

But law deans and professors defend the unusual offerings, the Wall Street Journal says. The Qi Gong class is aimed at teaching students how to cope with stress and anxiety. The autonomous driving class is intended to teach torts through modern automotive class actions. And the bloodfeuds class has helped students develop negotiating skills.

Some students taking unusual classes have inspired students to change career directions. Jim Dunstan took a course in space law at Georgetown, for example, and went on to craft a lease for the Russian space station Mir.

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