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Author Topic: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year  (Read 5641 times)

remiz22

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In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« on: March 24, 2008, 10:20:07 AM »
Interesting article today on Leiter Reports about W&L plan to not have students take any traditional law school classes during their third year...

Washington & Lee's Radical Transformation of the 3rd Year of Law School

One law professor at another school, who called the proposal to my attention, wrote to me with some reasonable concerns about this curricular change:

If 100% practice is the way to run the third year, isn't the obvious answer to make a J.D. program a two year affair?  Also, it creates horrible choices for students, who have only the 2L year in which to take electives.  If Jurisprudence conflicts on the schedule with Evidence, you have to take one or the other, but you can't take both.  (W & L has a small faculty and on small faculties many electives are offered only one time per academic year, and in some cases only every other academic year.)  Similarly, even if the conflict is between Jurisprudence and Partnership Tax, it forces choices on students that they should not face.  And, you also have to ask about how a practical curriculum will (must?) affect faculty hiring choices -- are traditional hiring criteria the appropriate standards for faculty for the 3L year?  I'm guessing "no," on the theory that J.D./D. Phil. isn't likely able (or very much interested) in teaching a civil practice clinic or a practicum on drafting wills. . .  Maybe there's some merit to this "reform" that I'm just not seeing, but it seems like a very risky, "all in" kind of move.

Leiter:

It is clearly very risky:  if it succeeds, it will transform Washington & Lee into a leader in legal education, to which the top firms will flock for new hires; if it fails--because, for example, good students and faculty choose to go elsewhere--Washington & Lee may never recover as a top 30-35 law school with a quasi-national status.  The risk, put simply, is that within the legal academy, interdisciplinary scholarship is the coin of prestige in the realm, which is why one finds schools like Stanford, under Dean Larry Kramer, touting initiatives like more JD/PhD programs, and why elite law schools hire almost exclusively interdisciplinary scholars.  Washington & Lee is, as my correspondent noted, going to have to do very different faculty hiring in order to staff this ambitious new program.  If it succeeds, students and ultimately employers will be the beneficiaries, and other schools will no doubt follow suit.  But in the short term there is a real risk that Washington & Lee's reputation among legal academics may take a real hit.

philibusters

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2008, 01:19:36 PM »
I like it.  Getting real life skills is more important than learning substantive law in silly seminars.  That said, if I were a student tere I would like the option of picking between traditional and taking clinics.  I am taking a tax clinic in my third year (I don't go to W&L but nearby W&M) and I really like the clinic, but I don't know if I would want every class to be a clinic.  It seems to me maybe a compromise for example where all students are required to take three practical skills classes like trial advocacy or clinics might be a better solution to the problem that law schools are not imparting enough practical skills to their students.
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OnTheRoad

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2008, 01:23:06 PM »
This sounds like a step in the direction of the UK legal ed system, where you do a year or two in the classroom and then do your last year as a trainee at a firm. I've always thought that that system would definitely be a better way to learn and keep people interested. In the short term though, it would make me very nervous.

aerynn

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2008, 06:36:58 PM »
I wonder how effective it really will be as far as preparing students for actual practice.  I, as a student, might do a Legal Aid clinic or the Innocence Project clinic, but as a practitioner I don't think I am cut out for criminal law.  Plus, there are a lot of black letter law classes that can help students pass the bar and have a well rounded legal education before they become specialists.  Will this lead to a lower bar passage rate as students have to rely completely on BarBri to get ready for the bar and are seeing this stuff for the first time?
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Lenny

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2008, 07:21:50 PM »
1.  I took almost no core "bar" classes and I felt that this was an advantage, because I wasn't burdened with the history of having learned what some professor thinks the law of secured transactions should be.  Rather, I learned exactly what the law is, as it will be tested on the exam, from Barbri.  I never regretted having not taken the core bar classes.

2.  The title of this post, as well as the substance of the remarks on the Leiter Report, are misleading.  In short, third year students will still have the ability to take classes that focus on the eclectic, "academic" subject matters.  However, the teaching method will differ slightly in that instead of the typical seminar where you read some cases and articles and then talk about what you think, the students will now be reading some cases and articles and applying the theory to "real-world" scenarios.  I do agree that is some instances, it will be a bit forced and contrived, as are many attempts to make something "practical."  However, it will still be more benficial than the current purely self-indulgent academic model.  I also think that the professors will retain plenty of autonomy to shape the course as they please, so I don't think you will see a dramatic shift in faculty hiring patterns or in the scholarship that the faculty produces.

segundo

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2008, 10:22:55 PM »
While I can see the need for more practice among students in law school, I don't think it is a good idea to force all 3L's to take only experiential classes during their final year. What if a student wants to take a class outside his core area of law as a 3L? Also, what if Evidence and Corporations are only offered or open during the Fall of 2L? Should a 2L who needs to take both have to forfeit one of them?

It also seems that if W&L thinks it can properly teach the traditional law in only 2 years, they should award a JD after 2L and let the students "practice" at a law firm while getting paid.
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starbucks

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2008, 10:28:03 PM »
Sounds like W&L wants to become another Baylor

philibusters

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2008, 11:27:58 PM »
Like I said I think its a good thing.  Last summer when I worked at a private firm for the first time and I personally didn't feel I did as good as I could do.  A big reason for this I think was because I didn't have much confidence in my practical skills.  Generally in life I feel like I am as confident as most, but I did not want to take on assignments last summer where I had a lot of personal responsibility because I wasn't confident I knew what I was doing.  I worked with five other summer clerks and while two of them were so naturally confident that I don't think confidence was an issue, I think for four out of six of us, fear of making a beginners mistake held us back.  And yet I still managed to make beginners mistakes.

There are some classes that I enjoyed my third year I would have had to given up if I was in the system.  Other classes I took for secondary reasons but ended up enjoying more than I thought, like Conflicts of Laws, which is like advanced Civil Procedure except more intellectually stimulating. However, the tradeoff is getting those all important real world skills.  I hate to say it but I am dreading going into the working world because I know the first first few months will be stressful as I learn the ropes.

2008 graduate of William and Mary Law School

jeffreydane

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2008, 02:15:28 AM »
   I visited W&L the other week, and I think that this post misrepresents the reformation of curriculum at W&L based off the dean of admissions description of the transformation.  As Lenny mentioned earlier, this does not do away with electives at all, or with traditional "teaching" of the law; it's not just practicing under an attorney.  Instead it is a practical focus on courses that are taught nearly everywhere. 

    Furthermore, it is my understanding that this transformation is already taking place across the sphere in law schools.  Vanderbilt has already switched many of their classes to this practical focus including 1 1l course.  The professor who created it there, is now "visiting" at Harvard.  Many other schools seem to be following this broad reform towards practicality. 

   However, since I'm considering W&L strongly, I'd love to hear more discussion about how this will affect the future of the program and if people are hearing something different than what the dean described. 
   

segundo

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Re: In risky new plan, W&L scraps 3L year
« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2008, 09:20:50 AM »
I visited W&L the other week, and I think that this post misrepresents the reformation of curriculum at W&L based off the dean of admissions description of the transformation.  As Lenny mentioned earlier, this does not do away with electives at all, or with traditional "teaching" of the law; it's not just practicing under an attorney.  Instead it is a practical focus on courses that are taught nearly everywhere. 

Furthermore, it is my understanding that this transformation is already taking place across the sphere in law schools. 
 

First, this program is not the kind of tranformation taking place at other law schools. It is very radical.

Second, I think Lenny and the W&L dean of admissions are not being totally straight with you. It most ceratinly does do away with tradional teaching of the law for 3L.

From the WSJ:

The Washington and Lee School of Law is poised to turn the world of legal education on its head. The deans are announcing a plan to overhaul its 3L curriculum by replacing all academic classes — that’s right, all academic classes — with “experiential” learning

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/03/13/breaking-news-law-school-to-teach-practice-of-law/?mod=WSJBlog
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