Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Oncoming Locomotive of Interdisciplinarity

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Bill and I have already posted separately (here and here) about our mutual sense that the traditional disciplinary walls of the profession are crumbling, not just in terms of regulatory aspects like multi-disciplinary practices, but in terms of the integration of legal expertise with other aspects of enterprise, policy, mediation, and the like.  (Nothing like a blog to flog your own work  - blog flog? - but I've written about this in The Venn Diagram of Business Lawyering Judgments:  Toward a Theory of Practical Metadisciplinarity.) 

In that continuing vein, the Wall Street Journal has a story this morning about school administrators and corporate recruiters rethinking the value of an undergraduate business major.  "The biggest complaint:  The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don't develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal education."  I want to make it clear I understand this is about undergraduate education, and not a professional school in which students are investing (or leveraging with debt) another $100,000 to $200,000.  But it's the directional thrust about disciplines that I think we need to take very, very seriously.  Clearly we have an obligation for teaching professional depth.  But the following statements, I'm assuming well-reported even if anecdotal, say something about the need for professional breadth:

- "Companies say they need flexible thinkers with innovative ideas and a broad knowledge base derived from multiple disciplines."

- "William Sullivan ... says the divide between business and liberal-arts offerings, however unintentional, has hurt students, who see their business instruction as 'isolated' from other disciplines."

- "[B]usiness schools ... are tweaking their undergraduate business curricula in an attempt to better integrate lessons on history, ethics and writing into courses about finance and marketing."

- "Doug Guthrie, dean of the George Washington University School of Business, is planning to draw on expertise in the university's psychology and philosophy departments to teach business ethics and he'll seek help from the engineering problem to address sustainability."

- "Firms are looking for talents, they're not looking for content knowledge, per se."

If there's general consensus that the third year of law school needs overhauling (and maybe the second year as well), and if we are thinking about all the things that people with law degrees might do other than the traditional activity "before the bar," this is food for thought in the design of all those skills courses, clinics, simulations, and practica.  

[Cross-posted at The Legal Whiteboard.]

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