Program in legal studies could be in place by fall

Becky Bowman

Northwestern students hoping to attend law school could apply Spring Quarter for an adjunct major or minor in legal studies, pending further administrator approval.

The program received a $50,000 grant from the provost’s office in the spring to begin work on the program, said sociology Prof. Robert Nelson, who co-wrote the proposal with political science Prof. Wesley G. Skogan.

If both the faculty and the curriculum policies committee of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences approve the program, the program would accept 30 students Fall Quarter, Nelson said.

The legal studies program would offer students a chance to study law with a liberal arts perspective, an angle that could be more beneficial to law-school bound students than traditional pre-law programs, Nelson said.

“Better law schools don’t look for pre-law students,” Nelson said. “They look for students who have taken challenging course work and that have developed their analytical skills. What they value are students who are well prepared to think and write and analyze.”

Students in the program would take challenging liberal arts classes about the institution of law and complete a three-quarter research project, he said.

“It’s supposed to be a broad exposure to law, in the social historical context,” Nelson said. “It will bring together Law School faculty as well as people from the different departments around campus, and draw from courses with a variety of different views of law.”

Students would fulfill program requirements by taking courses specifically designed for the program as well as courses throughout NU’s undergraduate departments and the Law School. The program could also include linkage seminars and opportunities for legal internships, Nelson said.

Weinberg junior David Wiemer said a legal studies program could help students decide whether or not they want to be in the law profession as well as prepare them for law school.

“It is important to understand the effects of the law on society,” he said. “If the program was able to teach students what it is to be a lawyer, it would help students decide if they want to be a lawyer.”

The legal studies program would be one of three components of a new Center for Legal Studies, along with two cross-school programs at NU: the graduate-doctorate law program, founded in the mid-1960s, and the graduate certificate program in law and social science, founded in 1999.

The Mary Jane McMillen Crowe Hall, the addition to Kresge Centennial Hall, would house the program. Until Crowe Hall is completed, the center’s temporary offices would be in the basement of Harris Hall or in the offices of the sociology department, Nelson said.

Weinberg will provide part of the teaching budget, Nelson said. The Law School also will provide faculty to teach courses and train students in library research.

The program could quickly become a leader in the field and rival similar programs at Princeton University, Amherst College, the University of Wisconsin, New York University and University of California at Berkeley, programs that have existed for up to 20 years, he said.

“Chicago is a great place to have a program like this,” Nelson said.