Friday, August 9, 2013

Back to School: Practice-Ready Legal Curriculum

Over 340 Years of 
Private Practice Experience 
Among ASL's Faculty

It frustrated me to no end when highly-ranked Washington and Lee University School of Law -- to much fanfare -- announced in 2008 their practice-ready curriculum for 3Ls students.  The press release from the school's Dean said:
[We] are embarking on a dramatic revision of [the] law school curriculum, entirely reinventing the third year to make it a year of professional development through simulated and actual practice experiences.  
This is one of the boldest reforms in American legal education since Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell pioneered the new curriculum at Harvard Law School in the late 19th century.
What?  WTF?  Appalachian School of Law had created -- from its inception in the mid-1990s -- a practice-ready, experiential curriculum for all students (not just 3Ls) long before Washington and Lee announced its program!  But for us, the pedagogical approach was so embedded in our institutional genes, we never thought to elevate it to a nationwide selling point.  Silly us!

What sets ASL apart from nearly all law schools is this.  Its faculty members, when taken together, have over 340 years of  private practice experience.  For example. I practiced for 20 years in the areas of energy, civil litigation, ADR, and insurance law before I joined the academy.  I still sharpen the saw by providing pro bono mediation services to parties appearing in area courts.  Ironically, one of my mentors, at the school where I earned my LL.M., advised me that all that private practice experience would taint me in academia.

It seems most law school faculties prefer faculty members who possess a purely theoretical bent, as opposed to a practical bent.  Luckily, I found an academic home where my colleagues welcomed the expertise I had garnered in the conference rooms, courts, and law offices where lawyers meet to argue, brief, negotiate, and solve legal problems.  For more about our faculty, see here.

I posted earlier about the nationally recognized externship program of the Appalachian School of Law.  Few law schools have anything like it in scale or coverage.  For more information, see here.

Also, our curriculum emphasizes the development of the following professional skills:
  • Legal writing and research throughout the curriculum, not just during the first year
  • Advocacy in trial and appellate courts
  • Advocacy in arbitration and mediation
  • Negotiation 
  • Client representation and counseling
  • Corporate and contractual transactions
  • Wills and trusts
  • Family law practice
  • Pre-trial practice
  • Insurance claims 
  • Mineral and natural resource management, and 
  • Small business counseling and drafting.
I do not intend that list to be exclusive.  I know it's not.  For more information about our course offerings, see here.

As noted in an earlier posting, we have award-winning moot court, mock trial, and ADR competition teams. Our practice-ready curriculum supports those successes.  

It also makes our students ready to face the demands of legal practice straight out of school.  Thank goodness for that because so many graduates and lawyers practice in small or solo practices where mentoring does not exist or may fall short of the needs of some new lawyers. Our graduates hit the ground running.

And, if I had to put money on a legal team, I'd choose ASL over W&L.  In fact, I have. Several years ago, we whooped W&L in a negotiation competition.  ;-)  

Yes, that is a very broad smile on my face. I love an under-estimated, underdog. Sic 'em, Fido.   ;-)

For more information, see here.

Dec. 31, 2014 Update:  This blog posting, criticizing a Harvard Law Course designed for students who want to become law professors, clearly identifies the difference between the so-called elite schools and the access schools.  At elite schools, professors produce scholarship.  At access schools, professors teach practice skills because we can.  We also produce scholarship, but it does not take priority over teaching and assessment.   We focus on student learning!

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