Arts & Sciences

Revised legal studies major has job market in mind

May 19, 2016 by Cindy O'Dell

LegalStudiesMainImageThe legal studies major at Brandman University had become something of a hodgepodge, pulling courses designed for other programs: criminal justice, political science, philosophy.

“It was a little bit strange,” said David Long, who teaches in both the legal studies and criminal justice programs. While students already in that major are on their way to a useful, broad-based education, Long thought it could be better. He tapped fellow attorney and Brandman faculty member Melissa Meyer to review it with him.

Melissa Meyer, David Long

Incoming students will find a relaunched legal studies program this fall. It’s really a whole new program, said Meyer and Long.

First up is the paralegal profession concentration. It will share core courses with the business law, regulatory compliance, and social justice and public policy concentrations launching later.

“We’ve had a lot of preliminary interest in the program,” said Long.

The paralegal concentration includes courses on electronic discovery and legal technology, contemporary legal issues and law practice management.

All courses will be offered online with a few core courses offered both online and in blended (in-class and online) format.

Focus on employability

Both Meyer and Long are attorneys and bring experience in both civil and criminal law as well as teaching experience.

“We both had ideas about where we wanted the program to go,” said Meyer. “Our focus was on employability skills. The courses now are very heavy in theory and we wanted to shift it toward a more practical approach.”

Meyer said they looked at what other successful programs were doing and incorporated them into the Brandman’s legal studies program while also trying to harness the most relevant and up-to-date topics.

Courses such as constitutional rights, which Meyer now teaches will remain part of the criminal justice program but offered as an elective.

Newly created core legal studies courses (with a new LEST prefix) will cover foundations of law; legal research and writing; contracts; constitutional governance; interviewing, negotiation and alternative dispute resolution; business organizations; torts; litigation and trial advocacy; and ethics in a legal environment. White collar crime from the criminal justice program is also a requirement as is the new legal studies capstone class.

It’s not law school

While that might sound like three years of law school, the emphasis of the Brandman courses will be on introducing basic concepts not on creating specialists.

Long said it was important to keep that in mind when designing the courses. “You want to challenge them (the students) but you realize they’re not law students. You need to meet them where they are and pull them up. It’s not like going to law school, however I think the curriculum is going to be quite challenging and will require a lot of dedication and focus.”

In designing the programs, both Long and Meyer had to keep in mind the accelerated pace of Brandman’s eight-week sessions. For Long it was also a chance to revisit courses and concepts that were outside his career expertise.

“It’s always fun to be able to teach courses that you have a special interest in, but it’s also nice to revisit courses that are not my specialty,” he said, admitting that revisiting contract law gave him nightmares of his first year of law school. “It’s one of the things I love about teaching … you’re always learning.”

Not just for paralegals

Meyer sees many options for the program’s eventual graduates. While working for a law firm as a paralegal seems like the most obvious career objective, she said positions are also available at the county and state level as well as with nonprofit organizations. “It really applies to anyone who is interested in knowing how the law works. There are many ways to apply it in business settings.”

For Meyer, the hardest part of the relaunch was trying to stay patient with the process. “We have these ideas and we want to do them now. You have to take the time, do the research, get the feedback and develop the courses. Now, three years later, we’re really excited to finally start rolling out the courses.”


David Long earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, after graduating magna cum laude from Howard University. He spent nearly a decade in government serving as a special agent, has practiced commercial and insurance litigation and teaches both criminal justice and legal studies in the School of Arts and Sciences. Listen to a podcast about his career and teaching philosophy: 
Melissa Meyer 
earned her Juris Doctorate from the University at Buffalo Law School where she graduated Magna Cum Laude following a B.A. in political science from Old Dominion University. Her legal experience includes being an assistant public defender in Rochester, New York, an appellate court attorney and a litigation attorney.
Like all Brandman programs, the legal studies relaunch relied on feedback from experts in the field.
• Tom Campbell: Dean, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law
• Debbie D’Ambrosio: Legal administrator – litigation, Excellus Health Plan
• Rebecca Falkner: Director, Institutional Planning, Brandman University
• Doug Kennedy: Case Management advisor, Gavin De Becker and Associates
• Saul Maneiro: Program officer, Rochester Area Community Foundation
• June McLaughlin: Paralegal program director, Irvine Valley College
• Tracy Mendonsa: Former FBI special agent and compliance analyst with Purple Communications, Inc.
• David Wasilenko: retired judge

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