USLI – Undergraduate Student Learning Initiative

Legal Studies is an interdisciplinary, liberal arts major that engages the meanings, values, practices, and institutions of law and legality.  The Legal Studies curriculum examines how law shapes and is shaped by political, economic, and cultural forces.  The major is designed to stimulate critical understanding of and inquiry about the theoretical frameworks, historical dynamics, and cultural embeddedness of law.

The Legal Studies faculty and students grapple with important questions of social policy within the framework of significant concerns in jurisprudence and theories of justice.  These concerns include individual liberty, privacy, and autonomy; political and social equality; the just distribution of resources and opportunities within society; the relationship between citizens and the state; democratic participation and representation; the moral commitments of the community; and the preservation of human dignity.

The major’s course offerings examine law and legality from both humanist and empirical perspectives.  Courses are organized into interdisciplinary topical areas that transcend disciplinary boundaries in the interest of collaborative inquiry.

Legal Studies’ Pedagogic Objectives

 Convey how law relates to social context:  Students will learn about the transformation of legal processes and systems across time and space (e.g., globalization, transnational processes).  They will also study how law shapes and is shaped by economic, political, and cultural forces, as well as how and why law in action often differs from legal doctrine.

Adopt an explicitly interdisciplinary approach:  Students will focus on pervasive problems of legal and social policy across traditional curricular and disciplinary boundaries.  Although the program encompasses multiple disciplinary perspectives (e.g., history, economics, sociology), it is designed to transcend academic identities rather than compartmentalize the study of law into the discrete perspectives of established disciplines.  To accomplish this integration, the major is organized around areas of focus that explore common themes but include coursework across disciplinary boundaries.

Integrate empirical and humanities-oriented perspectives: Students will be exposed to both empirical and humanities-oriented perspectives on law and legal institutions through distribution requirements within the major.  Empirical perspectives encompass public policy analysis, training in the epistemological commitments of social science (e.g., empirical methods, the logic of social inquiry), and familiarity with the central questions and tenets related to law in disciplines such as economics, sociology, and political science.  Humanities perspectives include maintaining the program’s historical focus on clarifying fundamental values, examining philosophical questions related to law, and understanding the operation and effects of social and cultural practices as they relate to law, legal institutions, and the phenomenon they regulate.  After students fulfill the basic distribution requirements, they may, but will not be required to, concentrate their efforts in either empirical or humanities-oriented perspectives.

Promote engagement with social policy: Students will be encouraged to engage deeply with social policy guided by significant themes in jurisprudence and theories of justice.  These themes include individual liberty, privacy, democracy, and the relationship between the citizen and the state.  Engaging with these themes ensures that policy studies are basic and critical, rather than confined to pre-existing policy formulations and assumptions.  This new objective of engagement with social policy is intended to connect humanistic inquiries regarding justice, morality, and values, with empirical inquiries into patterns of social behavior and the effects of law on society.  This goal will be accomplished through both coursework and field work options.

Encourage civic engagement and an appreciation of the values at stake in legal concerns:  Consistent with our mission as a public university, the major will develop informed and engaged citizens with sufficient knowledge and background to participate in civic institutions and the development of law and policy during and after their education at Berkeley.  This participation could take many forms, including interacting with public officials, joining the legal profession, working for legal institutions, engaging in policy analysis, advocacy, social movement building, community organizing, political activism, and the like.  Civic engagement includes confronting the relationship between law and justice, and understanding how law affects the public interest and social utility.

Provide a liberal arts education:  The major will continue to have a liberal arts orientation.  Students will learn to analyze and understand legal rules and legal institutions, but from a broader perspective than is typically taught in a traditional law school setting.

USLI Goals

The faculty strongly supports an undergraduate liberal arts education that teaches students to develop their intellectual capacities:  how to research topics independently, how to ask penetrating questions, how to analyze problems, how to construct arguments based on critical thinking, how to make well-founded judgments, how to identify issues of importance for the future.  The intent of the program is that courses be framed with this perspective.  In addition, the program is committed to introducing students to multiple disciplinary approaches to the study of law and legal institutions, as well as conveying important basic knowledge about the core features of the American legal system.

Critical Thinking Skills

In concert with the goals identified above, these critical thinking skills focus on particular forms of analysis central to engaging with law and legal institutions from multiple disciplinary perspectives.

Identify and evaluate arguments, synthesize ideas, and develop well-substantiated, coherent, and concise arguments, whether in oral or written form.

Identify and follow a logical sequence or argument through to its end; recognize faulty reasoning.

Develop the ability to critically evaluate proposed legal reforms and policies.

Develop the ability to formulate generalized, abstract principles in a way that clarifies the major issues at stake and identifies the most relevant elements of a concept or text.

Promote exploration of the role of law in American society from both social science and humanities perspectives.

Learn to draw from multiple disciplinary approaches and fields of study across philosophy, history, economics, political science, and sociology; synthesize, bridge, and question disciplinary boundaries to identify new inquiries or insights.

Basic Knowledge about Law and Legal Institutions

These goals address important basic knowledge about law and legal institutions that the program seeks to convey.  These goals are not intended to provide a pre-professional education, but instead to produce citizens literate in the basic functions and structure of legal systems.

Understand core theories about the relationship between law and society.

Be introduced to core features of the American legal system.

Understand basic legal terminology, legal concepts, legal actors, and modes of legal reasoning.
Become acquainted with legal systems other than our own, including how they compare to the current American legal system.

Develop insights into how law has evolved through time, including the temporal and geographical transformation of legal processes and systems.

Engaged Citizenship

The faculty believes that our role as a program in a public institution should include training students to be engaged, active, and critical citizens in our society.  Many legal studies students engage in civic participation and service while at Berkeley, and many go on to careers in public service.  We seek to develop more opportunities for students to develop practical skills and knowledge relevant to those experiences in addition to the broader intellectual skills conveyed by a liberal arts education.

Experience the law in action through service learning, exposure to legal clinics, problem solving, and social policy engagement.

Enable civic engagement and participation in developing and critiquing social policy.

Research Methods

A key part of a liberal arts education is learning how to conduct independent research and analysis.  The program seeks to expose students to a multidisciplinary range of methods of research. 

Develop an understanding of methods of research and forms of evidence across multiple disciplines.

Develop skills necessary to find and to assess relevant jurisprudential, social science, and humanities materials related to law and legal institutions.

Develop basic abilities in statistical analysis and reasoning.

Understand the logic of inquiry in the social sciences.

Humanities (defined as philosophy, political theory, and history)

 These goals provide general guidance for curricular focus and development in the humanities as they relate to law and legal institutions.

Encourage understanding of and reflection on fundamental normative concepts such as fairness, due process, equality, and utility.

Encourage understanding of and reflection on rights, duties, punishment, and justice.

Encourage understanding of and reflection on the ethical dimensions of the relationship between citizens and the state, and the forms and limits of sovereignty.

Understand the historical contexts and forces within which legal systems operate and how legal systems influence history and societies.

Social Sciences (defined as sociology, political science, psychology & economics)

These goals provide general guidance for curricular focus and development in the social sciences as they relate to law and legal institutions.

Develop the ability to connect theory about law and legal institutions with empirical predictions about the state of the world and to evaluate those predictions with data.

Understand how, and why, the law in action often differs from the law on the books.

Develop an expansive understanding of the social contexts in which law and legal institutions can be studied empirically.

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