Video Q&A with the Dean
In the videos linked below, Dean Smolla answers some of the common questions regarding the third year curriculum reform. Text transcripts of the Dean's remarks are available also.
What external forces are driving the change in the third year curriculum?
Transcript: The external forces that drove us to think about very dramatically changing our law school curriculum were forces that have been swirling around in American society and in the legal profession for a long time. For many, many decades practicing lawyers and judges have said that law schools need to do more to help students make the transition from the theoretical and academic study of law to the actual practice of law, to the serving of clients, to the solving of people's problems, to the exercise of judgment, to understanding the traditions of the profession and the ideals of professionalism and it was our conviction that that critique was largely right on the money, that it really is important for us to think, not just about what it means intellectually to become a lawyer, but what it means professionally to become a lawyer and I think that we absorbed a lot of that discussion that was taking place around the country and looked at ourselves and said what can we do that is more ambitious, more rigorous and will really help novice lawyers, wonderful bright law students that are excited about entering the profession, enter it with a sense of how to solve people problems, how to engage in the actual craft of lawyering.
Describe the elements of the new third year curriculum?
Transcript: The new third year curriculum has a number of different elements. The core of it will be simulated practice experiences, in which we will create simulations of the kinds of problems that lawyers will face in the actual world. And these can involve any subject matter at all, they could involve a person who comes to a lawyer wanting to obtain custody of a child, they could involve a business that wants to invest in a foreign nation or acquire a company. They can involve a real estate closing, just about any problem that a lawyer in modern life might face, from the most sophisticated difficult, international business transactions, to serving ordinary folks and their daily needs, as they have a need for a lawyer, we will cover in this curriculum. But we'll do it by simulating the nature of the problem that that young lawyer would face in actual practice and then mentoring that young lawyer as he or she works their way through the solution to the problem. And that means helping to understand what the issues are, the various options for solving the issues, counseling the client, and all sorts of written work product of the kind that lawyers have to produce all the time, that are part of legal practice. So, that's one major component, the simulated practice experiences.
A second component will be actually allowing our law students to have some exposure to actual practice. We do this already through a number of legal clinics that we have, and we have plans to expand our clinical offerings. We also have some externships that allow students to have real world experiences with judges, or government agencies, and even with some law firms. And so we will be somewhat expanding those.
Then the final type of experience that we will have will involve a programming in which students will be immersed in learning the skills, the practical skills of being a lawyer, and even more importantly will be immersed in understanding the profession as a profession. So, we'll have a professionalism course that will go beyond simply legal ethics, it will go on how one comports ones self as a lawyer, the kinds of ways in which a good lawyer is expected to behave towards clients, toward fellow lawyers, toward agencies, and toward judges. And then also to understand how the profession actually works. The various kinds of jobs that exist in the profession, the way in which legal services are financed in our country, and various other ways that lawyers serve, a corporate client, private clients, a government agencies, and the public interests.
And so, through that blend of experiences, simulated experiences, actual practice experiences, and instruction in professionalism, we will be helping our students learn the craft of law by actually doing it, either in a simulated sense or in an actual sense, as opposed to just studying about it.
What are the goals of the new curriculum?
Transcript: The goals of our curriculum, I think, are to help a student understand what it means to actually be a lawyer. For a long time, our law school and most American law schools have done a brilliant job, I think, of helping law students understand how to think like a lawyer. But there's more to the job than just thinking. There's counseling, there's advocacy, there's the taking of a problem that a client has and helping them work their way through it and its our goal to help students develop those skills and at the same time develop a sense of professionalism, of the traditions of the profession, of the role of the lawyer in our society, the role of the lawyer as the leader, of the role of the lawyer as someone who helps make society better, as we struggle to deal with all the challenges that face us.
Are there any important elements of the law school experience that will be missing because of this change in the curriculum?
Transcript: I think its probably useful in understanding the bold new curriculum that we are creating, to compare what we are planning to do with what our law school has traditionally done and what most law schools have traditionally done. I suppose the biggest contrast is this, most of what takes place in the traditional law school takes place literally in a classroom, and there's a professor in the front of the room, or seated at the seminar table, and students will have had assignments that they have read in advance, and they come to class at 2 or 3 days a week, and they explore and discuss those assignments. And then at the end of the year they take an exam, or they write a paper. That's a very traditional school model, and that is what most of us are used to in high school and college and for most of the law school experience.
That will not be what we are doing with this new third year experience. It will not take place in classroom settings. There won't be a professor who assigns material in advance in the traditional sense. There won't be someone coming to the podium or sitting around a seminar table. Instead, we'll take exactly the same material that we would have had in a seminar or that we would have had in a traditional course, and we will present it to a student exactly as it would be presented to a student in the actual world, once they graduate. And then, the professor or the visiting professor of practice who might be a very experienced lawyer, who will come in to help us with one of these courses, will act as the senior lawyer would in the real world and guide the student as the student discovers how to grapple with the problem, begins to formulate his or her judgment as to how to advise the client, or his or her judgment as to what sorts of arguments to make before an agency or before a court. The senior lawyer will act as a mentor and as a guide, and as an evaluator. The student will produce various kinds of work, exactly as the student would do in the real world, the practice and the senior lawyer will critique that work or the professor acting as the senior lawyer will critique that work.
And so, the method of learning will be much more active in contrast to the traditional method of learning in a classroom and the method of evaluation will be much more hands on and will involve looking at the very kind of work that the student would later produce when he or she enters practice.