Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More on the Washington & Lee classroom to courtroom curriculum change

How's that for alliteration?  To follow up on a story we told you about last week concerning the practicum curriculum change at Washington & Lee that the school claims is responsible for a 33% increase in applicants, both the Washington Post and the online ABA Journal Blog have picked up the story and provide us with some more details about the program (the Post story includes a slideshow).

Most members of Washington and Lee's Class of 2010 have abandoned the lecture hall to spend their final year of law school learning how law is practiced -- including the mundanities of dressing for court and the intricacies of taking depositions and writing briefs on deadline.

Students are working court cases from complaint to verdict, matching wits with opposing counsel, currying favor with judges and managing difficult clients, real and simulated.

. . . .

Most law students spend their three years in classrooms, analyzing landmark cases to learn the legal reasoning behind them. The case method, as it is known, was pioneered at Harvard in the 1870s. The last year of law school much resembles the first, and it is widely regarded as the weakest: Third-year students have learned to think like lawyers, and the work has become routine.

The model has been criticized for stressing theory over practice. Law schools mostly leave it to firms to teach new associates how to work with real cases and clients.

"Some people say that we, the legal academy, are not doing a good enough job training lawyers for the lives that they will lead," said Dan Polsby, dean of the law school at George Mason University. "People don't know where the courthouse is. They don't have the street smarts."

. . . .

Faculty members spent six years preparing the new program. Current third-year students had the right to opt out, and 49 did. Henceforth, only the new curriculum will be offered.

The goal of the new lessons is to teach third-year students how law is practiced in the real world, in contrast to the sterile predictability of the classroom. In one of the new courses, students received an e-mail on a Friday night announcing a major change in a document due Monday morning.

"Their initial reaction was to think, 'This is messed up,' " said Bob Danforth, associate dean for academic affairs. "Well, that's exactly why we're doing this."

You can read the rest of the Washington Post's coverage here and the ABA Journal coverage here.

I am the scholarship dude.



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