W&L Introduces Minor in Legal Studies The Law, Justice, and Society Program offers an interdisciplinary approach to legal studies that draws from faculty and resources in all three schools at Washington and Lee University.
“The Law, Justice and Society Program is richly interdisciplinary, and offers courses that are both philosophical in nature and more practical in nature.”
~ Provost Marc Conner
Washington and Lee University students have always had access to resources that prepare them for careers in law and related fields, including strong undergraduate coursework, pre-law advising, law-related internships and alumni connections in the field.
Beginning in fall 2019, however, students also may choose to pursue a minor in Law, Justice, and Society (LJS) through a new interdisciplinary program that harnesses the academic trifecta of the College, the Williams School and the Law School.
“The LJS program is richly interdisciplinary, and offers courses that are both philosophical in nature and more practical in nature,” said Provost Marc Conner. “Of course, there is no neat division between the philosophical and the professional, and indeed combining those two elements is a defining part of the W&L education.”
A Law School task force brought the idea for the new program to the Strategic Planning Steering Committee in 2017. Brant Hellwig, dean of the Law School, said members of the task force wanted to build connections between the undergraduate programs and the Law School. They also recognized that although many of W&L’s peer institutions offer a legal studies minor, none has an accredited, nationally recognized law school.
“It makes sense with the structure of our university to have this minor,” Hellwig said, “and I think we should be able to do this better than anybody else given our unique posture.”
Following the Board of Trustees’ approval of the 2018 Strategic Plan, Conner appointed a faculty committee to research similar programs in higher education and craft a proposal for Washington and Lee. In January 2019, the nine-person committee, which was made up of faculty from all three schools at W&L, delivered a detailed proposal for a new 21-credit minor.
The committee recommended that students complete an introductory course, five other approved courses (including at least one from each of the three schools) and a capstone experience in order to earn an LJS minor. Many of the courses were already part of the curriculum, as legal studies encompass a wide variety of disciplines, including accounting, business administration, classics, journalism, philosophy, religion and politics. New courses are being planned, including law-related courses in history, classics, literature and environmental studies.
A few new courses have already been introduced, including a Spring Term course on civil rights law; a first-year seminar on the intersection of law, science and technology; and Introduction to Law, Justice, and Society (LJS 101), which was offered for the first time this Fall Term. The introductory class itself involves an interdisciplinary look at the law from a variety of liberal arts perspectives, with visits from experts in various fields and ample time spent examining primary sources such as court opinions, treaties, constitutions and legislation. When registration began, LJS 101 immediately drew interest from twice as many students as there were seats in the class.
“As soon as I got the email that there was a new law-related class available for Fall Term, I jumped at the opportunity,” said Taylor Garcia ’22. “I was extremely interested because I took a law class in high school that I enjoyed and that piqued my interest in the legal field, as well as pursuing a law degree after undergrad.”
Assistant Professor Julie Youngman, who practiced law herself for 20 years prior to joining the Department of Business Administration, sat on the committee and will serve as inaugural head of the LJS program. Youngman is also teaching LJS 101 this term. She emphasized the requirement that LJS minors will take at least one class at the law school, where they will sit in class with law students and benefit from the intellectual challenge that goes with that experience.
“We included that requirement in the hope that there would be a benefit to both sides—that there would be some peer-to-peer learning, which has an advantage for both the undergraduates and the law students who are doing the mentoring,” she said.
Mark Drumbl, the Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and director of the Transnational Law Institute at the W&L School of Law, chaired the faculty committee that developed the program proposal. He said that while the program is bound to attract aspiring lawyers, it was not created for that express purpose. A legal studies minor complements a host of majors, from poverty studies to journalism. Members of the committee hope the minor will appeal to students from all majors who are interested in exploring the role of law and justice in society.
“Law, for better or worse, is playing a much larger role in life, and I don’t think that everyone who should be exposed to law necessarily needs to do a three-year graduate JD program at a law school,” Drumbl said. “One of the intellectual visions the committee had is that it is good to learn something about law without having to delve deeply into the law. I think this presents a unique opportunity to learn about what is increasingly one of the defining features of modern life.”
Lorri Olan, associate director of Career and Professional Development and pre-law advising coordinator at W&L, works with many students who are interested in law school. She said nearly a quarter of each incoming W&L class expresses an interest in law, while about 20 seniors each year go straight to law school after graduation. That number does not include the many other alumni who enter law school after a few years of working.
Olan is an attorney with 12 years’ experience advising undergraduate and law students. In her advising role, she started a law school fair, leads a law school admissions workshop, and offers programs on such topics as how to secure a law-related internship. She also connects students with alumni in the field and secures discounts on LSAT prep courses, which can be pricey.
Olan said a minor in legal studies is certainly not a prerequisite for law school acceptance. The Association of American Law Schools recommends a “broad-based academic experience well-grounded in the liberal arts.” From Olan’s recent experience, law admissions staff are interested in STEM majors because of advances in technology and its impact on the practice of law. However, the LJS minor certainly will not hurt, especially when coupled with a high GPA, competitive test scores, and experiential learning. She added that the minor would be a good fit for students who are interested in social justice issues but are not interested in attending law school.
Hellwig hopes that those who want to attend law school after graduation from W&L will look hard at the W&L School of Law as their natural next step. An average of four or five W&L graduates each year end up at the law school, and he would like to see that number increase. Although the new program is not meant to be a pipeline to the law school, he said, it is “hopefully a perk” of having undergraduate students exposed to the faculty, culture and resources there.
Like Youngman, who is also an adjunct professor at the law school, most of the core faculty for the LJS program have a law degree (see sidebar). Youngman said she is most looking forward to interacting with faculty and students from all over campus in her new role.
“We’ve got a really interesting group of people for the core faculty, and I’m looking forward to the cross-fertilization among all of these departments and academic disciplines and, by the same token, the broad spectrum of perspectives that the students will bring to the program.”
As Drumbl noted, gathering that many quality educators to work toward the same goal “builds a sum that is larger than many parts that already exist.”
“I think this is a bridge-building opportunity for the university in terms of bringing the units of the campus together, so it is really important that it succeeds,” he said. “The sun is shining on this little program in terms of it really appealing across the board to a variety of stakeholders coming from different angles.”
More About the LJS Program
“The Law, Justice, and Society Program at Washington and Lee University engages students in an interdisciplinary exploration of law and justice, challenges students to think freely, critically, and humanely about the role of law at a variety of levels (local, national, regional, global), and equips students to critically examine law and justice across cultural, chronological, topical, and institutional settings.”
Julie Youngman, J.D. and MA (Environmental Science), Duke
Jack Bovay, J.D. and LLM, Univ. of Florida
Kevin Crotty, J.D., Harvard; Ph.D (Classics), Yale
Mark Drumbl, J.D., University of Toronto; MA (Politics), McGill; LLM and S.J.D., Columbia
Peter Grajzl, Ph.D. (Economics), University of Maryland
Toni Locy, Master’s in the Studies of Law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Tim Lubin, Ph.D. (Early Indian Religions), Columbia; MTS (Religion), Harvard
Russ Miller, J.D. and MA (English Literature), Duke; LLM, University of Frankfurt Law School
Mark Rush, Ph.D. (Political Science), Johns Hopkins
Student Learning Outcomes:
●Understand the fundamental nature of law and justice, appreciate different perspectives on rights, responsibilities and social structures, and evaluate the role these concepts play in various societies.
●Discuss legal concepts in general and comparative terms using the vocabulary and conceptual tools of the academic study of the law.
●Acquire and demonstrate mastery of particular legal concepts, frameworks, and principles in one or more substantive areas.
●Understand and offer informed, independent, critical analysis of constitutions, statutes, court opinions, treaties, contracts, and other legal documents.
●Communicate such analysis effectively, both orally and in writing.