Just days before Richard Revesz announced his decision to step down from his post as dean of New York University School of Law, he rocked legal academia with his plans to change the third year of law school. Among other measures, Revesz announced plans to start a study abroad program in Buenos Aires, Paris, and Shanghai for the final semester of law school, plus business literacy training programs, concentrated practice area studies, and a Washington, D.C.–based government lawyering clinic.
We were curious about the changes and asked Revesz how they came about.
There's been a lot of brouhaha about NYU's plans for innovating the third-year curriculum. Are these measures really that revolutionary?
I think they are significant, not revolutionary. The committee [that proposed the changes] has various members [including Cravath, Swaine & Moore's presiding partner, Evan Chesler; Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz partner Eric Roth; and Estee Lauder's GC Sara Moss] who are also buyers of lawyers in the industry. Our goal was to figure out what the market is looking for.
What was the impetus behind the change? Was NYU alarmed by the bad employment statistics, where less than 50 percent of the graduates are getting jobs in Big Law?
No. We are doing terrifically. First, a lot of our graduates take clerkships. About 15–20 percent of our students are hard-core public interest [lawyers] who take jobs in that sector. Historically, the number of NYU students who take public interest jobs is twice as many as —and sometimes three or four times more than—students of our peer schools. The crisis is that there's a realignment in our profession. The impetus was not that we are doing poorly in the job market.
Some people have expressed cynicism about these third-year changes, suggesting that they are marketing tools or meaningless distractions. Elie Mystal at Above the Law blogged that the study abroad semester is as fluffy as the traditional junior year abroad.
It was hard to read that and take it seriously. We already had 15 exchange programs with schools [around the world]. We wanted to do a program where NYU already had a footprint, so we didn't have to worry about housing, and so forth.
How did you pick those three cities? I understand Shanghai, but why Paris and Buenos Aires? Did the fact that you're from Argentina influence the decision?
We didn't pick Buenos Aires because of that! The committee had proposed many different cities, and there was a focus group with students and faculty. Students were interested in Latin America, and wanted a Spanish-speaking city, and we had ties in Buenos Aires. Paris had to do with proximity to Brussels and the European Commission.
NYU is being creative about the structure of the third year of law school. But what about the first and second years?
We've already done it. We have a required course on the regulatory state. We are putting forth a robust accounting and finance component as part of the lawyering program.
How about something more radical—like eliminating the Socratic method or the case method?
[He pauses for a long time.] No.
Well, you can't fault me for asking.
Get The Careerist in your morning email. Sign up today—see box on upper right corner.Note: Since Hurricane Sandy struck NYC on Monday, I've been unable to access my email. Please send any important messages to me via Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist.