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Monday, February 04, 2013

Viewpoint: Law Schools Beef Up Hands-on Education

On the heels of the swearing in of the class of 2012, this is a time to reflect upon the efforts made by law schools, and UC Hastings in particular, to prepare these new lawyers.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Feb. 4, 2013 edition of The Recorder.

by Nancy Stuart

Law school critics have dominated the press of late, and complain that graduates are ill-prepared for the realities of practice. Yet many law schools have been diligently working to redirect the course of legal education. The new lawyers of today are better prepared to enter their chosen practice arenas as a result of greater access to clinics and externships, integration of interdisciplinary and comparative law in doctrinal courses, a grounding of problem solving and ethics throughout the curriculum, and involvement in pro bono work.

In response to similar critiques in the past, the Carnegie Foundation in 2007 published a report, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, concluding that many law schools overemphasize the case method. The report suggested instead that legal education take an "integrated approach" to develop three "apprenticeships": the cognitive apprenticeship, or how to "think like a lawyer"; the skills apprenticeship, or how to "do like a lawyer"; and the professional formation apprenticeship, or how to develop "professional identity and purpose."

Contrary to what recent critics claim, many law schools took action and their curriculum has evolved. For example, building upon UC Hastings' strong commitment to clinical legal education, we have continued to expand our clinical offerings specifically in nonlitigation contexts. A remarkable 65 percent of the class of 2012 completed a clinic or an externship during their law school tenure. Through these courses, students apply substantive knowledge, legal analysis and reasoning, and critical judgment in real-world settings. These opportunities are combined with a rigorous classroom component and expert supervision. As a result of these experiences, graduates are better able to serve clients, make ethical decisions and exercise practical judgment.

UC Hastings now has 14 clinics, with a 15th that will launch in the next academic year. Additionally, through our externship programs, students work in judicial chambers at all levels of the state and federal courts, as well as governmental and nonprofit law offices. While some of the clinics and externships focus on litigation skills, others focus on policy, corporate questions or intellectual property in transactional settings, or alternative dispute resolution.

In some of the clinics students represent individuals, groups or institutional clients, and in others, students take the role of a neutral, either in a court or alternative dispute resolution setting. The substantive focus of the clinics and externships also addresses a broad spectrum of practice, from criminal to immigration law, employment to environmental, international human rights to disability, legislation to elder law, intellectual property to entity formation, etc. Thus students may choose an experience and setting that reflects the practice arena they hope to engage in as a lawyer.

We have also moved beyond the hands-on approach of our experiential course offerings. Consistent with our strategic plan goal of preparing outstanding professionals ready to solve 21st century problems, the UC Hastings faculty is integrating elements of comparative law, experiential practice, problem-solving exercises, interdisciplinary knowledge and ethics throughout the curriculum. Each faculty member is committed to contextualizing doctrine to help students make connections between the classroom substance and what it means to be a lawyer in a global arena.

Our students also take advantage of the opportunity to develop their knowledge with greater depth in particular areas. We offer certificates of concentration in the areas of civil litigation and dispute resolution, criminal law, intellectual property, government law, international and comparative law, law and health sciences, social justice lawyering and taxation law. Graduates who concentrate in one of these areas complete advanced upper-division courses and engage in real-world experiences as they hone their readiness for the array of professional roles they will assume.

Is there room to teach additional skills, such as leadership, financial acumen, team skills and project management? Yes. And UC Hastings provides a broad array of opportunities for students to develop as professionals in these arenas, too. We recently added a financial basics for lawyers course and a course in law practice management. Are there other critiques of legal education that need to be addressed? Yes. Are we doing all we can? Not yet. But many law schools have heard the criticisms, and schools like UC Hastings are leading the response in productive, practical ways.

Nancy Stuart is associate dean for experiential programs and clinical professor of law at UC Hastings in San Francisco and can be reached at stuartn@uchastings.edu.

The Recorder welcomes submissions to Viewpoint. Contact Vitaly Gashpar at vgashpar@alm.com.

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