Shared Visions of Design and Law in Professional Education

68 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2014

See all articles by Cody Thornton

Cody Thornton

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2013


Two pressures are pushing law schools into new realms of teaching: the need to evolve beyond the Langdellian case method to transfer lawyering skills combined with a contraction in enrollment and revenue. Introspection and ad hoc solutions have failed to bring large-scale change at the right price.

The academy has long considered adapting other professions’ programs, such as medicine and business, but these changes would require a fundamental restructuring of legal academia, and perhaps part of the legal profession itself. The design professions, however, offer a more evolutionary option.

This article reintroduces the legal academy to the learning environment of professional designers: the contemporary studio. Studio courses could provide the balance of theory and practice that the academy and the profession now seek.

Law and design share creative problem-solving methods. Urban planners, landscape architects, engineers, architects, industrial designers, and lawyers all have the power to liberate people and to intervene in systemic problems by removing barriers and shifting resources. Yet the professions teach their crafts in vastly different ways.

The intensive and powerful studio environment teaches students to create and communicate solutions to complex problems. The primary value of a legal studio would be to release students’ creativity within both the practical and the theoretical realms. The studio inherently fosters almost all of the core lawyering skills and should appeal to social justice activists as much as transactional gurus; a studio could, in fact, ask students to engage in both conversations.

For law schools that want to engage students in self-exploration and creativity in a safe zone before they step into a world of obstacles, the studio is an excellent option. Conceptually, the “legal studio” approach would fall between a clinic and a seminar, with elements of simulations, skills courses, and other teaching variations. The method would allow students to explore, without harm to clients or the students’ own careers. In this setting, professors and students could work together to expand scholarship, to reconnect practicing lawyers to law schools, to practice on an academic schedule (not that of the courts), and to help fund the education received.

Keywords: Law School Pedagogy, Design School, Design Studio, Legal Studio, Design Law, Design School Pedagogy, Law and Design, Design School Academia, Legal Academia

Suggested Citation

Thornton, Cody, Shared Visions of Design and Law in Professional Education (July 1, 2013). Northeastern University Law Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, Summer 2013, Available at SSRN:

Cody Thornton (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

United States

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