Penn State Dickinson plans changes after ABA approval to split

Penn State, Dickinson Law in Carlisle, Penn. has announced what it calls a revitalized approach to legal education that will include several changes to the first-year curriculum. The announcement comes one month after the American Bar Association approved Pennsylvania State University’s proposal to operate two independent and fully accredited law schools: Penn State Law at University Park and Penn State, Dickinson Law.

“We are going to do things differently,” said Gary Gildin, interim dean at Penn State, Dickinson. “The first year of law school has been essentially the same for more than 150 years. With our new curriculum we plan to change that model, offering a fresh, cutting-edge alternative for career-minded students.”

First-year courses will focus on the core doctrinal, theoretical and policy foundations of law as well as the application of such theories with an emphasis on experiential learning.

New degree requirements include mandatory experiential work via internships, clinics and semester-in-practice programs. Elective courses based on niche law areas will be encouraged through the “Lawyer As…” program. Courses with an international and transnational focus will also be required of first-year students in order to steer away from the traditional domestic approach to legal education. Other market-driven courses will also be offered.

“Beginning the first day of classes, our students will immediately begin practical training,” Gildin said. “A Dickinson Law education will prepare students to be experienced, employable, and successful in their legal careers.”

Dickinson Law has set 75 as the maximum number for incoming students in order to keep class sizes small.

Previously, the two campuses operated as a single law school with two locations. Dickinson Law will begin operating as an independent law school in fall 2015. Both law schools offer three year J.D. programs and graduate law programs.

“We believe that two law schools operating independently can more flexibly respond to the needs of law students entering a rapidly changing legal profession," said Penn State Provost Nicholas P. Jones. "Penn State is offering two quality alternatives to prospective students, who can gain an extraordinary law school experience and education, and stand out in the marketplace for those qualities.”

Students currently enrolled and those beginning their legal education in fall 2014 will not be affected by the change. Future prospective students will be able to apply to either or both law schools. 

Graduates from both law schools will earn their degrees under the name The Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University with further clarification between the two law schools which will be referred to as Dickinson Law and Penn State Law. Each law school will have separate deans and faculty. Gary Gildin will serve as the interim dean for Dickinson Law and James W. Houck will continue to serve as interim dean for Penn State Law. Both law schools have begun the search for permanent deans.