V-Legal teaches non-law professionals to ‘think like a lawyer’

Jan 29, 2019

Chris Guthrie, dean and John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law, believes all Americans could benefit from a better understanding of our legal system. “We all interact with laws and the legal system every day, almost everywhere we go and in almost everything we do,” he said. “People who understand how our legal system works have knowledge they can use to make better decisions, personally and professionally, on a daily basis.”

Over the past year, Guthrie and three faculty members―Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Chris Serkin, Herman O. Loewenstein Professor of Law Suzanna Sherry, and Helen Strong Curry International Professor of Law Ingrid Wuerth―worked together to develop V-Legal, an online education program for non-legal professionals in coordination with iLaw, a BARBRI company. “The faculty for this program are outstanding teachers,” Guthrie said. “All have won Hall-Hartman Awards for Outstanding Teaching here at Vanderbilt.”

The program is divided into three courses: The Architecture of American Law, The Language of the Law: How Lawyers Think, and The Content of American Law. The online format allows students to work at their own pace, and helpful knowledge checks and assessments allow students to monitor their progress. They are awarded a certificate when they successfully complete the entire program, and the course modules remain available to allow participants to review the material or even retake segments within each course to refresh their understanding of legal concepts.

The first course explores different sources of law by introducing students to the structure of government, the regulatory state, and the anatomy of a lawsuit. The second course examines the nature of legal reasoning, focusing on analogical reasoning and core concepts that cut across the legal system. The final course offers a deeper dive into some specific areas of law. The course takes approximately 14 hours to complete. “We’ve purposely designed this course to be short and accessible,” Guthrie said. “The goal is not to give students a comprehensive legal education, but rather to expose students to some of the most commonly encountered areas of law, whether in business or in everyday life.”

Guthrie and the faculty team conceived of V-Legal as a response to a growing demand by non-law professionals for legal knowledge. “As legal regulation increases in all areas of business, executives and managers at all levels really need to understand legal principles and how the law works,” he said. “This program introduces core legal concepts in an engaging, accessible way. Its purpose is to enable professionals to think like a lawyer when they make decisions for their businesses or organizations―and to make people better consumers of legal advice.”

Priced under $2,000, the program is specifically designed for business and finance executives and entrepreneurs and other professionals―including medical, technology and human resource professionals, accountants and engineers―for whom a solid understanding of the foundations of the legal system is essential. According to Guthrie, that includes anyone who hires or regularly interacts professionally with lawyers or corporate legal departments, as well as anyone who deals with regulatory issues as part of their work. “Professionals in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors will benefit from earning the V-Legal Executive Certificate,” he said. “The program leverages the nationally renowned expertise of Vanderbilt law faculty to help business leaders successfully navigate business challenges in an increasingly global legal environment.”

Marshall Posey, an Air Force veteran who now serves as chief operating officer of the Asgard Group, a Maryland-based technology firm that focuses on cybersecurity, completed V-Legal in December 2018 and gives the program high marks for both quality of content and instruction. “I enrolled in V-Legal because I wanted a better understanding of the law in my day-to-day interactions,” he said. “The level of instruction and wealth of information the V-Legal professors provide is unmatched.”

Guthrie also believes that the program will appeal to prospective law students, who can use the courses to get a clearer sense of whether law school is a good option for them. “They’ll also gain an advantage by starting law school with a better understanding of the legal system than many of their classmates,” he said.

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