Unique undergraduate program probes social impact of law
Berkeley, Calif. — Anne Keck has been studying law for several years now, but she hasn't learned a thing about how to practice it. She didn't expect to. A senior at the University of California at Berkeley, she is majoring in the school's Legal Studies Program, a unique program for undergraduates which covers just about every aspect of the law except how to practice it.
There are no courses on collecting evidence or preparing torts, but there are courses on legal reasoning, ethics, law and economics, and the history of law.
''Once they come in they realize pretty quickly that we are not a nuts-and-bolts law training program, that we are a liberal arts program,'' said Charles McClain, the program coordinator.
He says the goals are to teach students analytical and writing skills as well as to give them an understanding of how the legal system developed, how it works , and how it affects society.
Although many schools offer similar courses, the courses tend to be scattered across the campus in departments of history, economics, political science, sociology, psychology, and philosophy.
At Berkeley they have all been pulled together and given a home and separate faculty at Boalt Hall, the university's law school. The legal-studies major is offered by the undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences, but it is the law school that controls the faculty and curriculum.
''We are doing it on a scale that is unique,'' said Jesse Choper, dean of the law school. He says that the school is strongly committed to both academic study and professional training, offering both the undergraduate program and the doctoral Jurisprudence and Society Program.
The two programs share 13 professors within the law school who, for the most part, are not lawyers, but have degrees in academic disciplines related to law. The programs also draw from the law faculty, which conducts the traditional professional training. These professors are freed to teach in the programs by swapping courses with one of the 13, Dean Choper said.
''It's a very happy situation in many ways,'' said Choper, explaining that the law professors welcome a chance to teach the undergraduates because the students are less burdened with career concerns and more open and enthusiastic than law students tend to be.
He said that having the two programs at the law school has enriched the traditional program by bringing in people from different academic disciplines.
The program grew out of the Center for the Study of Law and Society, which was founded at Berkeley in 1961. The graduate program came first and the undergraduate major was first offered in 1980.
''The school has been moving in a more academic direction, as opposed to just professional training,'' said Sheldon Messinger, chairman of the Legal Studies Program.
According to Philip Selznick, a retired professor who was instrumental in founding the center as well as the two programs, it is important for nonlawyers to have an opportunity to study the legal system.
''The rich expanse of basic legal theory and the broader aspects of law ... really has been a dark continent to anyone who was not a lawyer,'' he said.
School officials remind students that the program is not a prelaw course, and that it will not help them get into Boalt Hall's professional law school, Choper said. The undergraduate program has attracted about 120 majors, many of whom plan to enter careers in business or education instead of law.
Many of the undergraduates, however, are planning to go on to law school, including Anne Keck, who chose the major, she said, not because it will give her a leg up on her competition, but because it was irresistible.
''I liked being able to get into law,'' she said, ''because when you are excited about something you want to do it now.''