Historically, law schools focused almost exclusively on teaching students substantive legal concepts and developing corresponding analytical and writing skills. While this traditional core – “learning to think and write like a lawyer” -- remains at the center of the law school curriculum, it has become clear that law students need to develop other skills and knowledge to be successful once they graduate. Thus, we have seen a proliferation of course offerings focused on matters such as effective communication and leadership, adeptness with technology, and data analysis.
But another key, sometimes overlooked ingredient for law students’ career success in today’s economy is an understanding of basic financial concepts, as highlighted in a recent ABA Before the Bar article. Financial literacy is essential for nearly all practitioners – that is, not only those working in the corporate and commercial areas, but also in fields as diverse as family, elder, real estate, employment, criminal, health, and local government law. In addition, law school graduates operating an enterprise -- whether a law firm, business, nonprofit, or government agency – or doing consulting or policy work need this knowledge. Moreover, fluency with financial concepts enhances law school learning by assisting students in understanding business-based legal doctrines addressed in other law school courses and demystifies offerings in the corporate, commercial, compliance, tax, and business areas.
Among the financial concepts all law students should understand are the ways of recognizing the value of money and other assets, analyzing balance sheets, appreciating the nature of risk, calculating basic returns, and identifying the attributes of various financial instruments. Applying this knowledge also requires comfort with software such as Excel. While some of these items might be covered in core law school courses, they are unlikely to be a central focus or to be taught in a way that requires students to apply them to real-life problems.
With this critical need in mind, and in response to feedback from employers and our alumni, Seton Hall Law School now requires a one-credit Financial Concepts for Lawyers (FCFL) course for all students. Faculty have designed FCFL to ensure all Seton Hall graduates acquire basic financial literacy in a non-intimidating, exercise-based approach. This innovation will immediately enhance the law school learning experience, and, as students transition from class to work, they will quickly grasp how such knowledge helps them confront the demands of the legal marketplace.
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