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The All New Yale MBA

The Yale School of Management (SOM) appointed a new Dean last year, Joel Podolny, who served previously on the faculties at Harvard and Stanford business schools. After more than two decades of experimentation with SOM, Yale has given Dean Podolny the green light to try to compete at the highest level.

In light of the last several weeks’ worth of hand-wringing among law deans and faculty regarding the latest round of US News rankings, Yale’s strategy is an intriguing one: To raise its game, and its ranking, Yale is implementing a comprehensive revision of the business school curriculum. The thinking, as I understand it, is that the historical dominance of graduate business education by Harvard and Stanford is due to curricular innovations pioneered by each one and adopted by other schools: The case method, for Harvard; organizing faculty and courses by groups, or departments, for Stanford. Yale hypothesizes that if it can establish a model for the next generation of business school education, it is likely to be acknowledged as a top tier school — if not *the* top tier school.

The curricular plan itself is interdisciplinary and “cross-functional,” based on “stakeholder” perspectives. A description — including a very neat graphic representation — is online.

Can law schools attack their standing issues in a similar way, that is, via massive curricular innovation? As a practical matter, the answer is “probably not,” except (perhaps) for a handful of top tier private schools that are least interested in enhancing their reputation vis a vis the body of law schools as a whole. (Harvard, Yale, and Stanford might be able to engage in radical innovation, for example, but it’s hard to see why they would want to.) Equivalent comprehensive curricular reform for legal education has been kicked around in the law reviews from time to time, but given the imperatives of accreditation and the structure of the bar exam in almost every state, it’s just not going to happen any time soon. If it ever happens, it won’t happen at the speed with which Yale SOM has been able to move. Incremental change, even in the first year, is easier to imagine, though the key has to be differential incremental change. Post-MacCrate, lots of law schools have improved their clinical programs. The result may be better legal education, but few law schools have really differentiated themselves so clearly in the clinical area that any one school can be called the model clinical educator.

Is so-called “substantive” curricular reform different? Is it more susceptible to incremental differentiation? As I listened to the presentation on which I’m basing this post, I was making notes about working a bit of property and a bit of torts into my first-year Contracts course, and working a little bit of patent law and a little bit of contract law into my Copyright Law course. If a law school got known for this sort of thing on a wider scale, and if its peers did not, could that (or should that) influence assessments of the quality of the school? Is Yale onto something? Or are the worlds of legal and business education simply too different?