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.

Given the fierce competition for prospective students and rankings in the modern era of legal education, it is surprising and exciting to discover two substantially different law schools putting aside their competitive instincts in an effort to serve their communities.

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law has joined forces with Brigham Young Law School to explore solutions to reduce evictions in Arizona, Utah and beyond. This new project kick-started Arizona’s new Innovation for Justice (I4J) Program this fall and builds upon the initial success of BYU’s LawX Legal Design Lab, which launched in the fall of 2017.

The Arizona class is taught by Stacy Butler, director of the the law school’s Innovation for Justice program. Kimball D. Parker, LawX director and president of Parsons Behle Lab, a legal tech innovation subsidiary of a Salt Lake City law firm, leads the LawX initiative. Both classes focus on improving access to justice with the use of design thinking, systems thinking, technology and interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Students get to take a deep dive into a specific project to produce a community deliverable. They engage with the community and in doing so, begin to understand how their learning can be applied outside of the classroom,” said Marc Miller, dean of the UA James E. Rogers College of Law.

“Given the sheer volume of evictions in America, we believe this is the right issue for LawX to tackle in its second year, and we welcome collaboration with the University of Arizona Law School,” said D. Gordon Smith, Dean of BYU Law School.

To tackle the overwhelming eviction problem, twelve Innovation for Justice students and six LawX students utilize a design thinking approach throughout the fall semester to understand why tenants disengage with the civil legal system, identify innovative approaches to educating and engaging tenants, and develop strategies for delivering possible solutions into the hands of those who need help most.

The students check in with students at their sister school via video conference and utilize collaboration tools such as Google Docs and Slack to share research insights. Depending on the findings, the collaboration could result in a combined project that can be applied beyond Arizona’s and Utah’s borders, or it could result in separate projects that address regional barriers to eviction reduction.

“An eviction can be life-changing to an individual or family, and it can result in homelessness; our research determined that evictions have one of the highest rates of default among those who can’t afford an attorney,” said Parker.

Like most of my dean colleagues, I am in a constant search for new ways to expand the career opportunities of my students. We all aspire to arming our students with skill sets that differentiate our students in the job marketplace. This fall, Golden Gate University launched a new effort to assist its students in securing jobs in the technology sector by acquiring the prestigious McCarthy Institute. The Institute is jointly sponsored by the university’s law and business schools.

Golden Gate University’s location within a few block radius of the offices of many of the major tech companies—Facebook, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, etc., — and the job growth in the sector made the choice an obvious one.

Golden Gate hired Professor David Franklyn, the director of the McCarthy Institute and an expert on IP and technology law, giving him a joint appointment in the schools of law and business.

The university’s professors and students work closely with technology companies and become experts on issues related to tech, law, and business. To give you a concrete example, a first research project for the McCarthy Institute at GGU is to determine how to value a trademark in technology companies.  The institute faculty will work with students in the law and business schools and a marketing professor from the University of Chicago (a member of the McCarthy Institute’s Board), with a goal of producing cutting-edge research.

Sponsors of the Institute range from law firms such as like Morrison and Foerster, legal publishers, such as Thomson West, tech companies, such as Google, and trademark associations such as the International Trademark Association.

The Institute is a significant augmentation of Golden Gate’s Center for IP and Privacy Law.  As many of you may know, the Center produces the IP Law Book Review, a frequently updated review of recently published books in the IP field.  Reviews are written by a panel of IP scholars and practitioners.

What did your law school do last week to celebrate Constitution Day? At McGeorge, students and faculty ate popcorn while viewing and discussing RBG, the documentary showcasing the challenges and achievements of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Meanwhile, BYU Law commemorated the signing of the Constitution by announcing the launch of its Law and Corpus Linguistics Technology Platform, including three new and historically significant corpora. This platform is designed to advance the field of law and corpus linguistics, a methodology that uses naturally occurring language in large collections of texts called “corpora” to help determine the meaning of words and phrases.

Because corpus linguistics is new to me, I rely below on the experts to explain it. (I do have a McGeorge colleague, Brian Slocum, who has published quite a bit in this area.)

Associate Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court Thomas Lee, who is teaching a class on law and language with an emphasis on principles of corpus linguistics at Harvard Law School explains, “Corpus Linguistics is new to the legal community, and it holds significant and largely unexplored value in the courtroom when evaluating ordinary meaning.” “When a case presents a problem of lexical ambiguity, corpus methods offer judges an approach that is empirical and transparent, rather than intuitive and opaque. Early judicial decisions employing this methodology have highlighted these benefits. It is exciting to hear of new developments that will make corpus linguistics more available and accessible to practicing attorneys, judges, students and scholars around the world.”

The new corpora will be especially useful to those who study the meaning of the Constitution. “The method of corpus linguistics, which employs large-scale data sets (corpora) that provide evidence of linguistic practice, provides an important tool for the recovery of the original public meaning of the constitutional text,” said Lawrence Solum, Professor of Law at Georgetown Law and an internationally recognized author and expert in constitutional theory.

Designed specifically for lawyers and scholars, the new Law and Corpus Linguistics Technology Platform for linguistic analysis includes:

  • The Corpus of Founding Era American English, which contains over 140 million words, allowing the user to examine context to see how words from the Constitution were used at the time of the founding (1750 – 1799). This resource provides judges with evidence for the original meaning of the Constitution, even though we are more than 200 years removed from its ratification.
  • The Corpus of Early Modern English, which contains more than 40,000 texts from 1485 to 1800.
  • The Corpus of Supreme Court of the United States contains more than 130 million words from 32,000 Supreme Court documents.

These resources are free and available to legal professionals, judges, scholars and the public.

The Law and Corpus Linguistics Technology Platform features a user-friendly interface offering the ability to search these corpora by terms and phrases with filters for year, primary author, genre (legal or non-legal document, court proceeding, speech, diary entry, novel, etc.) and source. The corpora also support collocation searches, which enable the user to gain insights into word meanings and relationships between words.

BYU has taken a leading role in advancing the field of law and corpus linguistics. In 2013, BYU Law offered the first course on law and corpus linguistics in the United States, taught by Stephen Mouritsen. In 2016, BYU Law organized the first academic conference on law and corpus linguistics in partnership with Georgetown Law, and BYU Law has continued to host an annual conference on the topic. Last year, BYU Law created two research fellowships dedicated to law and corpus linguistics. This fall, adjunct BYU Law professor and.

The 2019 AALS Annual Meeting will include a session focusing on corpus linguistics, Corpus Linguistics: The Search for Objective Interpretation on Saturday, January 5, 2019 from 1:30 pm – 3:15 pm. The Section sponsored on Law and Interpretation is sponsoring the session.