On July 23, 2019, I emailed the Associate Deans’ and Deans’ ABA listservs asking for information about innovative courses. I received 54 responses describing more than 60 courses. This is my third post describing what I have learned.

I organized the courses into four categories: Required, Electives, Skills and Clinics, and Law and Technology, and I am planning six blog posts, including my first post on innovative required courses, a second post on innovative electives that focus on cutting edge topics and cutting-edge practice areas, this third post addressing the other electives sent to me, two postings that will focus on Skills Courses and Clinics, and one posting that will focus on Law and Technology Courses.

Each posting describes the courses, identifies the law school that offers the course, and, if I have the information, provides the name of a professor at the law school who teaches the course. I will include at least some commentary about most of the courses. The quoted language comes from the email I received from the law school or from the law school’s website.

I divided the nominated electives into four categories: (1) electives that focus on cutting-edge legal topics, (2) electives that focus on specific, interesting practice areas, (3) electives that focus on lawyer well-being, (4) and a catch-all category intro which I tossed the other eight interesting electives. This post will focus on the electives in the second two categories.

Electives that Focus on Lawyer Well-Being

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s “Mindful Lawyering” course, which Professor Clifford Rosky teaches as a two credit-hour, pass fail course, is an effort to communicate the law practice implications of a mindful practice.

Mindfulness refers to the practice of trying to pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, from one moment to the next, without criticism or judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help us develop greater awareness, concentration, and acceptance–allowing us to reduce our susceptibility to distractions, and respond creatively and constructively to pressures and demands, rather than reacting blindly out of habit.

The course description explains:

[I]n this course, students will practice mindfulness on a daily basis, both inside and outside of class. The course is divided into three units, in which we apply mindfulness to the personal, interpersonal, and institutional aspects of one’s professional identity as a lawyer. First, we will cover “personal” topics such as the relationship between the body and the mind in stress and relaxation responses; using mindfulness to examine one’s strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots; reflecting on what it means to be a “mindful” lawyer; and developing a mindful approach to thriving in law school and the practice of law. Second, we will cover “interpersonal” topics, including the “soft skills” of lawyering such as various styles of listening; vicarious trauma and empathy fatigue; basic principles of conflict management; the role of the lawyer in lawyer-client relations; and the recognition and reduction of implicit bias. Last, we will cover “institutional” topics such as fostering wellbeing in legal education and the practice of law, and new developments in the profession such as holistic and collaborative lawyering, restorative justice, and therapeutic jurisprudence.

Students in the class are “expected to maintain a daily practice of mindfulness.”

In a course called “The Happy Lawyer: Finding Your Path” developed by University of Richmond School of Law Dean Wendy Perdue and Professor Christopher Corts, Richmond students take a slightly different approach to developing habits that will ensure their long-term well-being. The course description explains that the course:

[E]xplores the role that workplace attributes and personal characteristics play in the lives of lawyers. Class meetings will be held on Sunday evenings over dinner at the home of Dean Perdue. During each class session, students will discuss prepared readings relevant to the course topic, and interact with guest speakers who will share a real-world perspective on lawyering, career development, self-care practices, and the particular ways they have pursued happiness, purpose, and meaning in their work.

Perhaps most interestingly, the class, which is capped at 10 students, meets each week at Dean Perdue’s home over Sunday night dinner. Here is an article that both provides additional information about this class and important background on the challenges that this course and the other courses described here are trying to address.

A third variation on this theme, the University of Tennessee College of Law’s “Thriving as a Lawyer (A Scientific Approach),” was developed by Professor Doug Blaze and Adjunct Professor Candice Reed (UT Law ’00), who earned her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The course was

Designed to introduce law students to the scientific principles of positive psychology, while incorporating “hands-on learning” through empirically validated positive interventions, which require cognitive reasoning and physical effort, encourage habitualizing behavior, involve goal-setting, and allow for self-efficacy or autonomy.

Other Innovative Electives

The breadth of courses in this last category reflects the breadth of interests of our faculty colleagues around the country. Two of the courses seem to be grounded in their law school’s context. Wayne State University Law School’s “Race, the Law, and Social Change in Southeast Michigan” focuses on social justice issues from the lens of the law school’s home city, Detroit. The course description explains:

Detroit is the most segregated metropolitan area in the country. This course examines the role and limits of law in addressing issues of race, discrimination and equality in Southeast Michigan. From a legal and anthropological perspective, students will study the efforts that attorneys have made over the past century to create a region more consistent with American values of inclusiveness. The course will examine individual and class action lawsuits and other forms of policy advocacy, all addressing legal problems in Southeast Michigan, examining litigation tactics and the role of expert testimony. The history and social problems of the region are examined from the perspective of the courtroom.

Lincoln University Duncan School of Law’s “Lincoln’s Constitution” course draws on the work of its namesake for the focus of a course. The course description explains:

This course provides an in-depth analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s constitutional perspectives, interpretations and actions. After a brief review of Lincoln’s biography and times, the course will examine his attitude and actions regarding slavery, secession, war powers, habeas corpus, emancipation, free speech and other individual rights, and reconstruction. The course also will evaluate the profound effects of Lincoln’s actions on modern American constitutional law.

The remaining courses are all over the map and are presented in the order I received them.

While many law schools offer a “Spanish for Lawyers” course, American University Washington College of Law’s Professor Jayesh Rathod has developed a more in-depth course, “Bilingual Lawyering.” The course description explains:

This one-credit course is designed to prepare students to be effective bilingual (Spanish-English) practitioners of U.S. immigration law. Students who enroll must have conversational Spanish language ability, as the course is taught primarily in Spanish. The immigration law survey course (LAW 655-001) is a co-requisite or prerequisite. . . . The content of the course will include the following: (1) discussion of, and practice in articulating substantive immigration law, and relevant legal procedures, to Spanish-speaking clients; (2) discussion of, and practice in counseling Spanish-speaking clients with immigration-related legal concerns; (3) ongoing discussion, in Spanish, of issues and questions raised by the assigned course readings; and (4) review of Spanish language vocabulary needed to communicate with clients about immigration law. More broadly, during the course we will consider challenges inherent in bilingual lawyering, along with different approaches to bilingual lawyering scenarios. In short, this is not simply a “Spanish for immigration lawyers” course, but rather a more rigorous effort to prepare you for the practice of immigration law in both English and Spanish

In this essay, Professor Rathod provides additional information about the course and explains the pedagogical context for the course.

[The essay] . . . outlines a unique, bilingual instructional model that involves adding an optional credit hour – taught in Spanish or another language – to existing doctrinal courses. Drawing from the literature on language pedagogy and classroom experiences over several years, the essay describes the basic architecture for these courses, specific instructional techniques, as well as some challenges and limitations of this model.

One of my favorite innovative electives is Northeastern University School of Law’s new “Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design and Legal Empowerment.” The course is a true interdisciplinary effort, bringing together law students and art students to solve important legal services problems. As the law school explained:

The NuLawLab’s engagement with students at the School of Law typically begins with their enrollment in the Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design and Legal Empowerment. This limited-enrollment intensive seminar explores the use of design principles in the development of new models for delivering legal information and services. Law and art students explore problem-solving methodologies derived from the fields of product and systems design as they apply them to a specific legal design problem. By the end of the experience, students have worked together as a team to take an idea from brainstorm to tested prototype.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law has implemented a unique approach to offering field experience courses. The courses are offered during intersessions and are attached to one of the law school’s doctrinal courses. As the law school explained:

Preservation law is connected to a one-week trip on the Buffalo National River, International Criminal Law is connected to a one-week trip to international organizations in the Hague, Missouri Civil Procedure is connected to a trip to the Missouri Supreme Court, and Family Violence is connected to a trip to the Yucatan to learn about how family violence is addressed in Mexico. Students reflect on their experiences and how the doctrines from class translate into practice in the field.

The University of Richmond School of Law offers a second course of interest to this post. The law school’s innovative “Vices – Prohibition, Regulation, and Social Impact” course

[E]xamines the historical treatment of and trends in public policy regarding gambling, pornography, prostitution, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs . . . [and] the effectiveness of these policies on human behavior and related industry, including the impact of legal and illicit markets on society, race and gender.”

The University of Arkansas Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law offers an interesting post-Business Organizations course called “Corporate Justice.” The course extends the concepts students learned in Business Organizations to social justice issues. Subjects include “Corporate Board Diversity, the Private for-profit Prison industry, the Financial Market Crisis of 2008, and the pursuit of social justice in the corporate context.” The course, designed by Bowen Professor andré douglas pond cummings, seeks to equip students “with a renewed knowledge of basic Corporate Law concepts, like the Business Judgment Rule and Board of Director fiduciary duties,” and “the skills necessary to engage in shareholder activism, [address] board of director diversity, and [understand] causes for capital market traumas.”

The final course in this category is the University of Mississippi School of Law‘s “Law and Science Fiction” course. The law school describes its specialized law and literature course in this way:

Many of the great works of science fiction deal with law in its various guises, some directly, others indirectly. In particular, science fiction offers a unique perspective to address issues relating to contemporary problems in law and society. This mini-seminar will explore some of the major themes of science fiction as they relate to law and society, focusing on questions of diversity and autonomy. Course materials will include short stories, graphic novels, novels, episodes from science fiction TV shows, and movies.

On July 23, 2019, I emailed the Associate Deans’ and Deans’ ABA listservs asking for information about innovative courses. I received 54 responses describing more than 60 courses. This is my second post describing what I have learned. (Note 1: I adjusted my label from “unique courses” to “innovative courses” so I can duck the question of whether any particular course meets the high standard of distinctiveness required by the word “unique.”)

I organized the courses into four categories: Required , Electives, Skills and Clinics, and Law and Technology, and I am planning six blog posts, including my first post (which addressed Required Courses), two postings on Electives (for which I received the largest number of nominated courses) and of which this posting is the first, two on Skills Courses and Clinics (for which I received the second largest number of nominated courses), and one on Law and Technology Courses.

Each posting describes the courses, identifies the law school that offers the course, and, if I have the information, provides the name of a professor at the law school who teaches the course. I will include at least some commentary about most of the courses. The quoted language comes from the email I received from the law school or from the law school’s website.

In this posting, as my title for this posting suggests, I am focusing on innovative electives. I divided the nominated electives into four categories: (1) electives that focus on cutting-edge legal topics, (2) electives that focus on specific, interesting practice areas, (3) electives that focus on lawyer well-being, (4) and a catch-all category intro which I tossed the other eight interesting electives. This post will focus on the electives in the first two categories; my next post will focus on electives in the second and third categories.

Electives that Focus on Cutting-Edge Legal Topics

The breadth of courses I shoe-horned into this category is significant. The category includes a course framed around the criminal procedure issues in the Netflix television series Making a Murderer, a course that focus on governmental oversight and accountability, which has been in the news a bit lately, and a course entitled “Hip-Hop and the American Constitution.”

In the University of Utah School of Law’s three credit-hour “Making a Murder” course, created and taught by Professor Shima Baradaran Baughman, students analyze criminal procedure issues not covered in typical Criminal Procedure courses, such as:

[S]cience in the court room, venue motions, prosecutorial ethics, police evidentiary issues, jury behavior, etc. In each class session, the students watch an episode or two of the series. The class then discusses the particular issues highlighted in that episode. The students also read over 2,000 pages of trial transcripts and motions from the Avery/Dassey cases so they can judge for themselves whether police/lawyers/judges acted properly.

This article includes an interview with Professor Baughman, who provides further details about this wildly popular course.

American University Washington College of Law is offering a particularly timely seminar called “Advanced Topics in Oversight and Accountability” created and taught by Professor Fernando Laguarda. According to Professor Laguarda’s syllabus, this two-credit course explores and analyzes “the work of the Inspectors General, Office of Government Ethics, Office of Special Counsel, Government Accountability Office, and the Office of Management and Budget, among other constituent elements of the ‘oversight and accountability community.’”

Students in the course help develop and implement an “Oversight and Accountability Blog.” The goal for students working on the Oversight and Accountability Blog is “to publish updates on newsworthy developments from the oversight and accountability community as well as more extensive analytical essays about their work from students and, eventually, from practitioners and representatives of those agencies.”

In a somewhat related subject area, Professor Greg Crespi of the SMU Dedman School of Law is offering a course entitled “Presidential Impeachment and Related Topics.” The course:

[I]nvestigates the legal and political issues relating to Presidential impeachment and removal from office, focusing primarily but not exclusively on the current President. During the first ten weeks of the semester the class meets twice each week in a seminar-style format to discuss several assigned books and other current topical materials relating to various legal or political impeachment issues, including related criminal indictment and 25th Amendment issues. By the end of the tenth week, students are asked to choose an impeachment-related topic of appropriate scope, and research and write a 25-30 page law journal-style paper. During the last four weeks of the semester students are asked to briefly present their paper ideas and outlines or preliminary paper drafts for general class discussion and suggestions. The course satisfies the School of Law general writing requirement.

Here is an SSRN link to Professor Crespi’s essay describing the course and its development.

In Professor andre douglass pond cummings’ two credit course, “Hip-Hop and the American Constitution,” University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law students have the opportunity to explore “social justice theory and training” and develop their “interest in representing indigent and underrepresented clients.”

[T]his course includes the study of Fourth Amendment search and seizure law, First Amendment free speech law, Constitutional Intellectual Property protections, as well as Mass Incarceration, Policing, Family law and Corporate law all through the prism of hip hop music and culture . . . In each of these areas, hip hop artists have openly critiqued the top-down development of the law, and this class gives students the opportunity to explore the law from the bottom up, imagining what form the law might take if hip hop artist’s critiques and contributions were taken seriously and adopted.

The final course in this category, Florida A & M College of Law’s “Cannabis Law Social Justice Workshop” is a seminar that focuses on “key legal and policy issues related to racial disparities within every part of the cannabis industry, including the local, state and federal differences in the criminal justice system, economic and business disparities, and social justice implications.” The course also explores “the legislative and technology landscape in this dynamic area and . . . provide(s) opportunities to discuss cutting-edge issues at the intersection of law, cannabis, and social justice.”

Electives that Focus on Specific, Interesting Practice Areas

The six courses in this category explore a wide variety of practice areas of interest to students, including space law, legal operations, patent practice, privacy, and environmental law.

The first of the two space-related courses, the University of Nebraska College of Law’s “Space and Satellite Business Law,” explains the business context in this way:

[U].S. Space policy has favored increasing commercialization for three decades. Over 200 commercial space launches have occurred since the first one in 1989. New commercial activities, including ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station and performing research and experiments for the private sector on the ISS, are becoming routine. Soon human transportation and asteroid mining will be part of the commercial space landscape.

The course reviews and examines “the history of Presidential space policies regarding space commercialization” and the work of “all key federal agencies charged with licensing and regulating the commercial space transportation and satellite industries.” The course also addresses “the statutes that give these agencies this authority and the rules that the agencies administer and enforce” and “The role of NASA.” The largest portion of the course focuses,

. . . on agreements that form relationships in the commercial space industry. These include Launch Service Agreements, Satellite Purchase Agreements, Transponder Sale/Lease Agreements, Non-Disclosure Agreements, Satellite Launch and In-Orbit Insurance contracts, and Hosted Payload Agreements. The course concludes with students engaging in a simulation of a condensed commercial space business transaction – from business plan to launch.

The second, space-related course, the University of Mississippi School of Law’s “International Space Law,” “explores the international laws applicable to outer space.” The course analyzes the “nature and scope of international law . . . vis-à-vis space-related activities.” Specific topics addressed in the course include:

[T]he nature and sources of international space law; binding and non-binding international space law instruments; the progressive development of space law in the United Nations and other international forums; and subjects of current debate, including commercialization of government exploration, space debris remediation, remote proximity operations, space resource ownership and utilization, environmental protection, international security, military uses of outer space, and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

Nova Southeastern University Shepard-Broad College of Law has developed a course focusing on an area of practice expected to grow significantly in the next few years, Legal Operations. In an ABA Journal article authored by University of Indiana Maurer School of Law’s Professor William Henderson, a leading law practice futurist, the author explains, “the milewide gulf between the legal profession’s infinitesimal knowledge of the burgeoning field of legal operations and how that field is going to reshape the entire industry.”

Nova’s course explores the many areas of legal practice in which “one or more of the parties to a transaction or dispute are business enterprises operating using a common set of disciplines and tools to share information, evaluate risk, and make financially-based decisions.” The course:

[P]rovides law students an introduction to these primary tools of quantitative analysis and research, to better understand the needs of their clients, provide additional strategies for structuring transactions and resolving disputes, and adding discipline to the operations of the lawyers’ own law firms. Through simulations, exercises and discussions, students . . . explore how best to apply these tools to the practice of law.

The Southern University Law Center is offering a course focusing on a specific aspect of patent law practice. The law school explains the course, “PTAB Practice and Procedure,” in this way:

[T]he American Invents Act took effect in 2012 creating the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) to, in part, review the patentability of any patent through post-grant review (PGR), inter partes review (IPR) and covered business method (CBM) process. The PTO, as an executive agency, has created a myriad of procedures, rules and regulations to further define the PTAB and its operation. In this course, students . . . learn the statutory, administrative rules and practice of the PTAB process. Students . . . also gain practical tips from expert PTAB practitioners from across the country about patent litigation and its interaction with the new PTAB process.

Professor Victoria Schwartz (no relation) of Pepperdine University School of Law (who also serves as the law school’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs) has developed a privacy law course that focus on the practical applications of privacy law for students interested in careers as business lawyers. She reports that the course explores “issues of workplace privacy from the practical perspective of an attorney advising a business.” Because the area of law is still developing, she reports that course topics “may include electronic surveillance, drug, genetic and, psychological testing, polygraphs, social media issues, and employer control of off-duty activities.” Finally, she explains that, “While familiarizing themselves with the various legal frameworks applicable to workplace privacy, students . . . also develop skills in offering legal advice in areas that are not yet clear under existing law.”

The final course on this list explores a traditional area of law, environmental law, in a new way. Pace University Elizabeth Haub School of Law’s four credit “Environmental Skills and Practice/Clean Water Act” adopts an intriguing approach:

[U]sing a single statute, the Clean Water Act, as a model, this course introduces the student to interpreting and working with complex statutes and regulations. Through a series of exercises and simulations, it explores basic administrative and regulatory processes, such as rule making, permit issuance, and enforcement. It explores how the three branches of the federal government, together with federal and state governments and advocates for industries and nongovernmental organizations, interact to develop environmental laws and policy and the role of lawyers in that process.

Final Comments for This Blog Post

As these courses reflect, in an effort to produce excellent lawyers who deeply understand the law, law professors continue to create courses that explore cutting-edge legal topics and fields.

My own reaction to the list of courses above is a desire to travel around the country taking all these courses. I do not believe my boss would approve.

On July 23, 2019, I emailed the Associate Deans’ and Deans’ ABA listservs asking for information about innovative courses. I received 54 responses describing more than 60 courses. I felt so fortunate to get to learn about all the interesting and innovative classes law schools have created, and I hope this post, which will be the first in a series of posts describing what I learned, proves to be of value to you. (Note 1: I have decided to adjust my label from “unique courses” to “innovative courses” so I can duck the question of whether any particular course meets the high standard of distinctiveness suggested by the word “unique.”

I decided to organize the courses into four categories: Required Courses, Electives, Skills Courses and Clinics, and Law and Technology Courses, and I am planning six blog posts, including this one on Required Courses, two on Electives (for which I received the largest number of nominated courses), two on Skills Courses and Clinics (for which I received the second largest number of nominated courses), and one on Law and Technology Courses. (Note 2: I acknowledge that these categories are arbitrary and simplistic. Skills courses and clinics are always taught against doctrinal backgrounds, and required and elective doctrinal courses typically teach analytical skills, and, in some cases, drafting and other practice skills.) My goal is to complete this series of six posts over the next 12 weeks.

Each posting will describe the courses, identify the law school that offers the course, and, if I have the information, provide the name of a professor at the law school who teaches the course. I will include at least some commentary about most of the courses. The quoted language comes from the email I received from the law school or from the law school’s website.

In this posting, as my title for this posting promises, I am focusing on innovative required courses. The seven required courses in this category fit into three sub-categories: (1) law practice skills courses, (2) professionalism and professional identity, and (3) foundational knowledge. Six of the seven courses are first-year courses.

Law Practice Skills

Professor Laura Thomas at the University of Minnesota School of Law has co-led the law school’s first year Law in Practice course for years. The course

[S]eeks to transform law students’ emerging knowledge of legal doctrine and reasoning into an introductory understanding of the practice of law.   LiP combines classroom teaching with small group simulation experiences to provide the conceptual knowledge and professional skills needed to master the iterative process of discovering new facts, refining legal research objectives and managing the relationship with the client. Law School faculty members teach a weekly class exploring doctrinal and strategic issues in the simulated cases. Students perform simulations in ‘Practice Groups’ of eight students led by practicing attorneys. Groups of two students engage in client or witness interviews, client counseling, and negotiation and dispute resolution simulations. Each student individually takes a deposition.

Here is a link to additional information about the course, and here is a link to an article about the course from Minnesota’s alumni magazine.

While many law schools have second-year simulation courses that are similar in content, what distinguishes this course is the choice to move it forward to the first year, a choice that I would hope would increase the likelihood that students retain the excitement about becoming lawyers that led them to go to law school in the first place.

Professionalism and Professional Identity

Three of the seven nominated required courses fit into this category, and I believe 25-30 law schools, including my current law school and my prior law school, require similar courses, all in the first year. Particular kudos are due in this category for Mercer Law School, which was one of the first law schools, if not the first, to create such a course and St. Thomas University School of Law, which has taken a leadership role in this field.

The courses in this category about which I was emailed were:

Mercer’s first The Legal Profession course, created by Professor Patrick Longen. This three-credit hour course is described as

[A]n exploration of lawyer professionalism. Students learn about what ‘professionalism’ means for lawyers and why it matters. They see what pressures the practice of law places on professionalism in different settings. The students explore the many ways in which the legal profession seeks, imperfectly, to create and perpetuate the conditions that promote professionalism. This course also examines the extraordinary challenges and opportunities that come with a life in the law, and the students study ways in which professionalism contributes to the satisfaction that lawyers find in their calling. In addition, to class readings, discussions, guest speakers, and an exam, the students write two papers reflecting on their career goals. They also visit in small groups with experienced lawyers to discuss life in the legal profession, and they read a biography of a famous lawyer or judge and discuss it in a small group setting.

Here is a link describing the course’s evolution.

The University of North Dakota School of Law’s Professional Foundations course is a team taught, two-credit hour course that was created and coordinated by Professor Emeritus Patti Alleva (who retired this year) and the law school’s new Dean, Michael McGinniss. The class

[I]ntroduces students to concepts of professional role, identity, and practice for lawyers. A key objective of the course is to assist students in beginning to cultivate a reflective mindset about professional life in the law and to develop the habits needed to exercise sound professional judgment as lawyers. Students will develop the skill of practiced self-reflection in legal settings and, in exploring the kind of lawyers they want to become, deepen their ability to apply their professional values in the practice of law.

Texas A & M School of Law’s Professional Identity course. In Professional Identity students are asked to engage in reflection about themselves, their goals, and how to best go about achieving them. PI is a chance for students to focus on their own professional development.

Foundational Knowledge

Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law has created two business-focused, required courses aimed at providing students with foundational business knowledge. The first, a required first-year, one credit course, called Business & Financial Literacy Module, is taught as a one-week intersession in January of students’ first year. It was described to me in this way: The course

[I]ntroduces all 1L students to critical business and finance concepts and their application in practice. This required course begins with an overview of basic financial literacy concepts, including instruction on how to read a financial statement and how to value a business. The course moves beyond these basics to show how these concepts are used in a practical setting. Students work in small groups to solve an ongoing problem involving the valuation and sale of a business. Their work is overseen by practicing attorneys who help students put the concepts they have learned into practice as they work through this real-life legal scenario. The week culminates with teams of students negotiating a deal and creating a term sheet for their clients, all with the guidance and supervision of experienced practitioners.

The second course, The Business Aspects of Law Module, was designed as a follow-up to the 1L course. The course was described to me in this way:

This one-week course was designed in consultation with law firm and in-house leaders. Practitioners from various settings – from global firms to small boutiques, from giant corporations to family businesses, from non-profits to government – show the students how different legal organizations run their business. Putting this knowledge into practice, students are broken into small teams and tasked with a simulation that requires them to run the general counsel’s office at a multinational corporation.

Together, these courses address an issue that I have heard about from practitioners all over the country: most new lawyers do not understand essential business concepts that can be significant both to their own practices and to their work for clients.

University of North Texas College of Law has created a one credit hour, first-year course it calls Lawyering Fundamentals. The course is aimed at providing UNT students with somewhat of a hybrid of the Legal Process courses from prior eras of legal education and the professionalism and professional identity courses described above. The course, per the description I received,

[I]ntroduces students to the UNT Dallas College of Law and its curriculum, and introduces concepts and skills that will be important throughout the study of law, including introduction to law as a profession, introduction to the court systems in Dallas, anatomy of a trial and anatomy of a deal, methods of effective studying and learning in law school, and interactions and interviews with lawyers relating to legal education and the practice of law.

Final Thoughts

Innovative courses in the first year are rare. Constrained by bar exam pass rate concerns, marketing concerns that lead law schools not to require more credit hours than their peer law schools, and the pervasive influence of the Langdellian legal education curriculum and the law school quasi-Socratic teaching method, law schools have only tinkered around the edges of the required curriculum. As you will see in future posts, the same cannot be said for upper-level skills courses, electives, and law and technology courses.

Giving law students the opportunity to advocate for clients is an essential part of the law school experience. When those clients are some of their state’s most vulnerable residents, the experience can be even more rewarding.

Third-year law students at the University of Nebraska College of Law have the opportunity to serve as guardians ad litem (GAL) for children in Nebraska’s child welfare system. The Children’s Justice Clinic (CJC) is a partnership between the College of Law and Nebraska’s Center on Children, Families, and the Law.

Since the year-long clinic began in September 2017, students have been appointed on 41 cases, representing 88 Nebraska children.

“Advocating for very young children presents a unique challenge that requires a special skill set,” said Judge Roger Heideman, presiding juvenile court judge for the Separate Juvenile Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska.

The CJC is a unique opportunity for law students which includes:

  • Guardian ad litem foundations – an intensive classroom component that students take prior to representing clients. Students learn the foundations of child representation, including courtrooms skills, federal and state child welfare laws, the child welfare process, child development, and trauma in young children.
  • Weekly seminars – each seminar is developed to enhance and complement the knowledge and skills that students learned in the foundations course. Topics include such areas as drug and substance abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
  • Case consultations – the clinic director and the multidisciplinary team of psychologists, social workers, and child welfare practitioners from the Center on Children, Families, and the Law meet weekly with students to advise on cases.
  • Reflective consultation – a licensed mental health practitioner and the clinic director help equip students for handling the emotional challenges of their cases.

“Being part of the CJC has expanded my law school education in a way I could have never imagined,” said Rachel Kunz, a third-year law student and current CJC student attorney. “I feel confident going into the courtroom or family team meetings to advocate for my clients and make their voices heard throughout the process. Being a part of this clinic makes me excited for my future as a lawyer.”

Chicago-Kent’s 1L Your Way Program allows students who know the area of law in which they would like to specialize to select a more flexible track. This optional program allows full-time J.D. students to defer a required first-year course to the second year in favor of taking either an approved, upper-division elective course or a unique first-year clinical course.

IL Your Way enhances students’ ability to exercise agency over their own education—which, literature suggests, has substantial pedagogical benefits—while also ensuring that all students are exposed to the necessary building blocks of the law. Elective Course Option. For example, students interested in intellectual property may take Patent Law, which would allow them to take the Patent Bar during their second year.  Similarly, students who know they want to specialize in labor and employment law may take Employment Relationships, and students who plan to practice in a corporate law environment may take Business Organizations. The law school hopes this flexibility enhances students’ marketability for summer employment.

Legal Clinic Option. Instead of taking an elective, students may choose to participate in one of the law school’s clinics to gain a better sense of the skills demanded in practice areas of interest to the student. Clinic practice areas at Chicago-Kent include criminal defense, employment/civil litigation, entrepreneurial law, family law, health and disability law, and tax and probate law.

Students also can opt into a rotation option for their 1L clinic options. Loosely based on the medical school model, this opportunity allows first-year students to participate along with upper level students as members of more than one clinic.

As a result of this new program, in spring 2019, Chicago-Kent College of Law became one of the few law schools to allow first-year students to fully participate in the law school’s clinics. The law school anticipates that approximately 50 Chicago-Kent 1L students will be eligible to participate in the First-Year Clinic during the spring semester each year.

Many pre-law advisors assume their roles because of passing interest, arm-twisting, or forcible assignment. A mix of academic advisors, career counselors, faculty, staff, and community organizers who take on pre-law advising in addition to their other responsibilities, at best, they are enthusiastic participants who lack the time or resources necessary to devote to mastering and keeping current on issues related to legal career counseling, law school selection, and the complexity of the law school application process.

To support and improve pre-law advising, the University of Arkansas, Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law, in partnership with Hendrix College, hosted the inaugural Arkansas Pre-Law Advisor Meeting on November 16, 2018. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together pre-law advisors, career counselors, and faculty who advise students about attending law school and pursuing legal careers to discuss the legal needs of Arkansas, exchange best practices, and network.

The conference featured introductions of Dean Theresa Beiner of UA Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law and Dean Margaret Sova McCabe of University of Arkansas School of Law; a presentation of Arkansas’s legal needs from Jordan Rodgers, Program Director at Arkansas Access to Justice; an overview of LSAC pre-law services from Vivian Bowden, Senior Vice President for Schools and Institutions at the Law School Admission Council; and a collaborative discussion led by Amanda Moore, Assistant Director, Graduate & Professional School Connections at Hendrix College’s Office of Career Services and Matthew Kerns, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Scholarships, and Enrollment Data at the UA Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law.

Because Bowen is my old stomping ground, I can tell you that Bowen recruited many of its best students from Hendrix, a wonderful little liberal arts college (full disclosure: my daughter’s alma mater!). But Bowen didn’t stop its partnership at Hendrix. In recognition of the diversity of experience and support from their respective colleges and universities, the inaugural Arkansas Pre-Law Advisor Meeting brought representatives from a third of Arkansas’s 40 institutions of higher education together to learn and collaborate to find solutions to common pre-law advising problems.

The long-term goal of the meeting is to address Arkansas’s profound access to justice needs by supporting pre-law education in the state.[1] This is the first time a meeting has been held to focus specifically on supporting Arkansas’s pre-law programs.

The Arkansas Pre-Law Advisors Meeting is another step in Bowen’s support of pre-law programming in Arkansas. It is an extension of Bowen’s Admissions 360 Initiative which seeks to provide access to the resources that can help make pre-law candidates successful applicants regardless of whether they or their undergraduate school have the means to support their goals.

[1] So far this year, applications are up 20% in Arkansas, but, of course, it is hard to know the cause. The only other states that have seen such a large increase are Alabama, Montana and North Dakota.

I genuinely believe all law schools make a significant effort to serve their local communities, and I am convinced we succeed.  Our legal clinics provide hundreds of thousands of hours of free legal services each year to people who could not otherwise afford such services, and our externship students support our local, state, and federal governments and scores of non-profits. Our scholarly work advances the law in myriad ways, and our faculties volunteer their time to serve our society.

As those of you at public universities well know, however, public higher education faces particular pressures to justify its public funding by demonstrating relevance and positive contributions to state and local economies.  The West Virginia University College of Law has added two new legal clinics (bringing its total to nine clinics), both of which are designed to contribute directly to economic development in the state of West Virginia. In a region that has long relied on the fluctuating fortunes of a single economic resource—coal—this work adds direct value to the state.

The law school’s new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic (EILC), directed by Professor Priya Baskaran, provides transactional assistance to West Virginia’s small businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and burgeoning entrepreneurs. All the work is pro-bono, of course, and the clinic exclusively serves West Virginia clients. By working with individual clients and also supporting community business efforts, the clinic helps shape the business climate of West Virginia. The clinic, for example, provides legal services and training to new entrepreneurs and community organizations that work to address poverty.

The law school’s new Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic (LUSD) also aims to help West Virginia communities meet their economic goals. Under the direction of Professor Kat Garvey, the LUSD delivers conservation, municipal planning, and land use strategies to local governments, landowners, and nonprofit organizations. The clinic’s conservation focus helps preserve West Virginia’s natural beauty and enhance the tourism industry. Because many communities in West Virginia are small and don’t have professional staff to tackle land use issues, the clinic works with officials to develop comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. And these comprehensive plans are essential—not just to helping communities grow and prosper—but to helping communities persevere after a disaster. In 2016, much of West Virginia was devastated by floods, but, according to Garvey, communities with comprehensive plans not only knew how to rebuild, but also were in a better position to receive grants to fund that effort. Now, building on common concerns throughout the region, LUSD is helping communities work together by creating the state’s first regional comprehensive plan.

These and WVU’s seven other legal clinics show students “that lawyers are important to people and communities and train them to practice law,” says Gregory W. Bowman, Dean and Professor of Law, but they also “make the West Virginia University College of Law critically important to its state and the region.”

Law schools continue to tinker with the first-year curriculum, with some law schools adding Legislation and Regulation courses, others adding professionalism or professional identity-focused courses, still others adding international law courses, and a few affording students first-year electives.  Texas A&M University School of Law has added another possibility to the mix—a required, first-year, one-credit Dispute Resolution Survey course.   In January, all first-year A & M students must take the new course during the week prior to Spring semester.  Over five days, the course introduces the students to the continuum of legal dispute resolution processes, particularly negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and new developments such as collaborative law and online dispute resolution.

“We introduced the Dispute Resolution survey course as part of a set of changes to the 1L curriculum, designed to ensure that we were preparing our students for effective lawyering and leadership in the 21st century,” says Robert B. Ahdieh, Dean & Anthony G. Buzbee Endowed Dean’s Chair at Texas A&M.  “With an eye to the changing landscape of dispute resolution at home and abroad, its complex interactions with almost every area of practice, and the law school’s distinctive strengths in the area, the course was an ideal addition to our first-year curriculum.”

Members of the faculty who teach in the law school’s dispute resolution program team-teach the course.  Each faculty member focuses on his or her area of specialization.  Professors Cynthia Alkon and Peter Reilly introduce the 1Ls to negotiation concepts and skills.  Professors Nancy Welsh and Carol Pauli focus on mediation and new developments, and Professors Michael Green and Guillermo Garcia provide an overview of the practice and law of arbitration.  Although the course includes substantial reading and some lecture, the students also engage in hands-on learning through exercises and simulations.  By the end of the course, students should be able to counsel clients regarding the basic differences among these processes, identify the issues that are important in choosing among and participating in them, and understand the role of lawyers.

The course has an ambitious set of seven learning objectives.  According to the law school, by the end of the course, students should be able to

  1. Explain to a client the primary differences among the dispute resolution processes of negotiation, mediation and arbitration.
  2. Identify the issues involved in counseling a client regarding which process would be appropriate for resolving a given dispute.
  3. Explain the basic structure and theoretical foundation of each of these dispute resolution processes and how the goals and structures of each one can vary in response to different contexts.
  4. Describe their role as a lawyer within each of these dispute resolution procedures.
  5. Be aware of ethical rules that apply to lawyers when serving as an advocate or neutral in a negotiation, mediation or arbitration.
  6. Identify and apply statutes and case law relevant to the enforcement of dispute resolution clauses providing for the use of negotiation, mediation and/or arbitration to resolve disputes.
  7. Assess their own performance as a lawyer in a dispute resolution process, provide constructive feedback to others, and identify ways to improve skills in representing clients effectively.

A significant number of my posts so far have focused on technological innovation.  This week’s post, however, focuses on an innovation that, for the most part, does not rely on technology.

Drake University Law School launched a new Institute for Justice Reform and Innovation in July. The nonpartisan Institute serves as a center for research and training on topics including implicit bias, sentencing reform, and improving trial procedures; it forges relationships with lawyers, judges, former jurors, court administrators, multi-disciplinary academics, non-profit advocacy groups and think tanks, and law students to achieve its goal of enhancing justice in the 21st century.

The institute is led by the Honorable Mark Bennett, a U.S. district court judge and nationally-renowned scholar and speaker on cutting-edge legal topics. One of the nation’s leading experts on implicit bias, Bennett has published more than 1,400 opinions and 24 law review articles in journals including the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. Judge Bennett will also teach a class at the Law School, serve as a resource for faculty and students, and continue speaking and writing on a national level.

“I am very excited for Judge Bennett to join us,” said Jerry Anderson, dean of Drake Law School. “He has devoted his entire career to improving the justice system in our country, and we look forward to providing him with a platform to continue this important work in collaboration with our students and faculty.”

An important goal of the Institute is providing information and education about Trial by Agreement and Pre-Trial Agreements, which Judge Bennett considers to be two of the most significant innovations in decades for the civil justice systems in state and federal courts. The basic idea—developed by Texas trial lawyers Steve Susman and Thomas Melsheimer— is for the lawyers to agree to discovery principles and trial principles in the abstract, before they get into any conflict.  The agreements focus on ideas that would likely be acceptable to both sides, that would not inherently benefit either the plaintiff or defendant. According to Judge Bennett, this approach reduces costs and minimizes delay.

Judge Bennett has incorporated Trial by Agreement into his supplemental trial management order entered early in every civil case. Lawyers in all filed civil cases are required to read about Trial by Agreement, discuss it with their clients, and file an affidavit to that effect. Judges are encouraged to follow Bennett’s lead, and trial lawyers and litigators are urged to suggest use of Trial by Agreement in their cases.

Another feature of the Institute is its repository of academic articles and other resources relating to both civil and criminal justice. Resource topics in the Civil and Criminal Repository include:

  • jury instructions: comprehension and plain English,
  • judges,
  • post-verdict juror questioning,
  • witness memory and demeanor, and
  • implicit bias in the law.

Like any law school, the University of Miami School of Law sought to find a way to include a public service experience in its orientation, both to create more meaningful connections between students and the Miami community and to help its students begin developing the soft-skills they will need to be successful practitioners. The law school created its own version of a “hackathon,” putting students on teams that challenged students to solve legal problems including athlete activism, cryptocurrency, municipal bankruptcies, and healthcare litigation.

Students were randomly assigned to one of eight hacks so that each hack has about 45 students per hack.  Six community stakeholders were invited to join each hack. These people included alumni and other practitioners, law faculty, faculty from across the University in disciplines similar to or related to the fields represented by the hack topics, and activists and policymakers who worked on the issues raised in the hack topics.  The students were not asked to created new technologies (which is the typical expectation of technology hackathons); rather, the students were asked to “hack” (create) a way to address their issue.

Each topic was related to the law school’s Living Law Talks in which 12 mini-lectures are delivered by law faculty (four rounds of 3 concurrent panels) to 1L students during orientation; each lecture includes 10 minutes of lecture and 10 minutes of Q&A, after which students switch and go to the next lecture.  The Talks themselves are an opportunity for faculty to use their scholarly agenda, a particular project, or a current event/phenomenon to make connections with students early in their law school careers.

Facilitated by upper level students who followed a hack-guide developed by Acting Dean & Professor of Law Osamudia R. James and other members of the law school’s orientation team, the hack groups were given a specific problem to consider, as well as a prompt to consider a product, process, or legislation that might address the problem articulated in the hack.  The students’ worked in small teams and their work culminated in a five-minute presentation that they would deliver to the larger hack group of 45.

The hacking exercise was designed to develop soft skills: a capacity for teamwork, innovation and creativity, the ability to offer problem-solving skills and not just isolated legal knowledge, and an awareness of the interdisciplinary nature of legal problems (both within the law, e.g. a problem that includes tort law, and contract law and civil procedure, as well as in concert with other disciplines, e.g. a legal problem that invokes larger sociological or political issues).

Students were able to see themselves as problem-solvers invested in understanding issues from the vantage point of multiple stakeholders. At the same time, students worked closely with each other, getting to know each other very quickly, and getting accustomed to speaking up even before the first day of class.  Finally, students were able to connect with members of the local Miami community in only their first moments of law school.

From my perspective, by creating this unique orientation experience, Miami Law itself has hacked a solution to the problem of translating new law students’ passion for justice and change into a unique and exciting learning opportunity and connections with the local Miami community.