Effective advocacy and wise problem solving are necessary skills for law school graduates. In order to prepare students to be ethical lawyers who embrace responsibility for the quality of justice, law schools must provide students with meaningful connections between legal education and the practice of law. For 90 years, California Western School of Law has produced graduates who are not only practice ready, but are equipped to serve their clients and the public interest in an ever-changing world.
Not Just Learning, but Doing What Lawyers Do
Law is a comprehensive discipline, dealing with norms, arguments, and reasons. Balance is the key in preparing graduates for a lifetime of successful and personally-rewarding practice. Their education must combine rigorous intellectual preparation with opportunities to apply that knowledge in a real-world venue under the direction of experienced attorneys. This type of practice-ready education—through an array of clinics, internships, and experiential courses—has always been an important part of the educational experience at California Western.
“What is unique about our experiential offerings is that they are not only extensive and offered to every student, but logically sequenced and coordinated to provide students with levels of knowledge, skills, and values appropriate to their learning needs,” says Professor Linda H. Morton, Associate Dean for Experiential Learning.
For example, first-year students receive experiential opportunities to hone the basics of research and writing. Second-year students receive simulated law office practice under the supervision of practicing lawyers through the STEPPS program. Additionally, California Western offers 10 different clinics, in which second- and third-year students represent actual clients under the instruction and guidance of our clinic faculty. In their final year, all students are eligible to gain academic credit through full and part-time internships, working under the supervision of actual lawyers in the field.
“Our internship program is one of the few in the country that places students full time in law office settings anywhere in the world, including the United States, Albania, Brazil, Japan, and Switzerland,” says Morton.
“In recent years we have developed some interesting hybrid experiential offerings, including more structured pro bono opportunities with classroom components, and small clinics based on specialized practice under the supervision of adjuncts,” says Professor Janet Weinstein, Director of the Clinical Internship Program.
But the proof of the effectiveness of any experiential offering is whether or not practicing attorneys find them valuable.
“We regularly receive feedback from attorneys about our interning students, complimenting the level of work our students do and the professionalism they reflect. We often hear that our students are among the best prepared of all the law students these attorneys see,” says Weinstein.
Pathways to Practice
Experiential learning not only helps students learn the practice of law, but also helps them discover what type of law they want to pursue as a career. When students identify a particular area of practice they would like to pursue, it helps to have a resource they can use to determine which courses and electives they should take, what clubs and organizations to get involved with, and the most appropriate internship opportunities to consider. That’s why California Western is working closely with legal practitioners to develop an interactive curricular tool to help students chart a practical course toward their preferred areas of practice. When it is initiated by the end of the summer, Pathways to Practice will simplify advising and make the law school curriculum much more transparent to students and employers.
“We started the process by taking a hard look at the curriculum, and invited practitioners to review the courses and to help us determine what students really need to learn before practicing in particular areas,” says Niels B. Schaumann, President and Dean of California Western. “Health Law and Civil Litigation pathways are being developed now, with more to follow.”
Pathways to Practice will give students guidance about what courses they should take in order to develop a level of expertise in a chosen area of law, and direction in how to rationally learn that specialty. For example, the Health Law pathway will offer three different tracks: Representing Healthcare Organizations, Medical Malpractice, and Life Sciences.
“We anticipate that by following a pathway, students who complete one of the health law areas of concentration will be in more competitive positions in the job market after graduating,” explains Professor Susan A. Channick, Co-director of the Institute of Health Law Studies.
Preparing Lawyers for Mexico’s Future
Connecting education to the practice of law isn’t confined to students. California Western also helps to prepare other nations as they undergo judicial system changes. In 1998, California Western established Proyecto ACCESO to train judicial and law enforcement officials in Latin America in new legal skills, including oral advocacy. This outreach has become particularly important as South American nations transition from an inquisitorial judicial style (written trials) to a more Western-style adversarial system (live trial). More than 4,000 private lawyers, judges, prosecutors, public interest lawyers, and defenders in South America have been trained through the Proyecto ACCESO program over the last five years. Graduates include the Minister of Justice of Chile, a Supreme Court judge in Panama, and the Attorney General of Chile.
Now, California Western also supports Mexico, where, by 2016, all trials are required to be held orally. To help prepare Mexican lawyers for this transition, California Western launched an online LL.M. degree program in Spanish, focused on developing oral advocacy skills.
“This program is an outgrowth of Proyecto ACCESO, and I believe we are the first law school to offer an LL.M. in Spanish and online,” says Professor Justin Brooks, Director of the Institute for Criminal Defense Advocacy.
Working to develop an educated public, judiciary, and legal system that understands the value of a judicial system based on transparency and the pursuit of justice, Proyecto ACCESO helps demonstrate California Western’s commitment to prepare lawyers everywhere for the future.
“By educating a new generation of legal change activists, empowering professionals dedicated to representing their respective clients, and bettering access to justice for society at large, we can really make a difference in the lives of citizens around the Americas,” says Professor James M. Cooper, Director of the International Legal Studies Program and Proyecto ACCESO.