The Third Year in Detail
I. The Values and Educational Theories that Animate the Program
A. Integrative Learning
The new Washington and Lee third year curriculum is grounded in the assumption that the Law School should embrace an identity and mission that creatively and constructively blends classic academic and professional values. The overarching goal of the new third year curriculum is to distinguish the learning process in the final year of law school from that in the first and second years, with a view toward deliberately preparing students for the transition to a professional practice.
The new third year curriculum is designed to integrate legal theory, legal doctrine, and the development of professional judgment, ethical sensibilities and a sense of professional identity. The program will engage students in a full range of broader professional and life skills that contribute to a life in the law that is meaningful and fulfilling.
B. Balancing Theory, Intellectual Rigor, Professional Judgment in Action, and Ethical Values
The new third year curriculum is not a simplistic and mundane substitution of practical study of law for intellectual study. Quite the contrary, the new curriculum draws on an increasing body of persuasive literature to advance a bold integration of cognitive learning, practical skills, and development of professional identity. The new curriculum will upgrade the quality of the third-year experience in every respect, including intellectual content and rigor, intensity of evaluation and feedback, and professional development. The Law School considered the thoughtful reflections of distinguished legal educators, lawyers, and judges in reaching its conclusions. Sources of insight that were particularly influential included:
- Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Preparation for the Professions (2007) (co-authored by William M. Sullivan, Anne Colby, Judith Welch Wegner, Lloyd Bond, Lee S. Schulman)
- Best Practices for Legal Education, CLEA, Roy Stuckey (2007)
- New Skills, New Learning: Legal Education and the Promise of Technology, Harvard Law School Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Gene Koo (2007)
- Legal Education and Professional Development—An Educational Continuum, Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap, American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (1992) (the "MacCrate Report")
C. The Principal Ambitions of the New Third Year
Drawing from the insights of our colleagues throughout legal education and the profession, the new program will be animated by two driving ambitions.
First, a third year student should be expected to more systematically exercise and express professional judgment in a variety of contexts. To be sure, the acquisition of essential legal knowledge will continue (as it does over a lifetime), but the purposeful expression of considered judgment and counsel to solve client problems will receive greater prominence. In short, third year students will, with guidance and supervision, engage in the craft of lawyering.
Second, a third year law student should be expected to reflect more systematically on what it means to live one's life in the law. Students should recurrently consider and receive guidance on the admirable qualities, dispositions, attitudes, concerns, and habits—moral and intellectual—of good lawyers. They should reflect on the obligations associated with membership in a learned profession and on their personal responsibility for law and its purposes, including a commitment to service and appreciating the myriad ways a lawyer can and should exercise civic leadership. In short, professional values in the best sense, not just competence, should be inculcated and transmitted as our students move toward practice.
D. Student-Centered Learning Methodologies
Studies researching the experiences of law students indicate that students often voice frustration with regard to many elements of the traditional law school model. Students sense a "lack of control" over their course of study. They often feel lost, not knowing exactly what is expected of them, "what they are supposed to be getting out of it," or whether "they are getting it." Feedback and evaluation in the traditional law school model typically comes at the end of a semester, often simply in the form of a stark letter grade. Moreover, many students feel that have "much more to offer" as future legal counselors and advocates than they are invited to show in the classroom settings and exams that dominate the traditional model.
W&L's program will respond to these needs. Drawing on a growing body of literature describing a richer array of teaching possibilities, including methods that are often used in other disciplines, such as in business and medical schools, our new third year program will place the student at the center of the educational enterprise.
Students will bear greater responsibility for learning. They will, with close supervision and guidance, organize and produce the assigned work. Students will receive immediate and ongoing feedback, and they will be expected to revise their work to improve it. They will do some work collaboratively, as lawyers frequently do. They will draw on a variety of courses already completed—even as they continue to learn additional law in a more realistic and meaningful fashion—i.e., as part of their quest to solve specific problems. Legal doctrine largely will be learned to help complete a particular project, not as a standalone endeavor, devoid of context. In this respect, the third year experience, by being more integrative, will at once be more practical and more intellectually demanding.
Students will have a greater sense of ownership of their education as they assume greater responsibility for learning by doing, something they will do the rest of their professional lives. This will encourage a healthy transformation of a student's sensibility and identity from one of student to one of lawyer. It will in turn lead to more sustained intellectual engagement throughout the third year.
Professionalism will be a unifying theme of the third year experience. Students will confront recurrently a broad range of professional and ethical dilemmas in more realistic settings. This will heighten student sensitivity to the identification of such issues and encourage extended reflection on approaches to the resolution of problems.
II. The Structure and Substance of the New Third Year
A. Elimination of the Traditional Academic Schedule and Coursework
In understanding Washington and Lee's new third year program, it is helpful to understand at the outset what it is not. The traditional approach to the third year of law school, as a continuation of a menu of courses, will be eliminated.
B. Structural Elements of the New Third Year
In lieu of traditional coursework conducted in a classroom setting, the third year curriculum will conducted entirely through the following programs:
- Professionalism Program. This is an entirely new, year-long program that will be ongoing for all students throughout the third year.
- Practicum Courses. The largest single component of the third year experience will consist of practicum courses. These will be principally simulated practice experiences but may in some instances include real-client experiences.
- Clinics and Externships. Washington and Lee offers numerous legal clinics and externship opportunities in external practice and judicial settings.
- Law Related Service Program. All students will be required to engage in extra-curricular law-related service, which may include traditional programs internal to the Law School, such as participation in law reviews and journals, moot court competitions, or student organizations; or in external community service and pro bono activities.
- Transactional Practice Intensive. A two-week, intensive course in transactional practice will be required of all students.
- Dispute Resolution Practice Intensive. A two-week, intensive course in dispute resolution practice (emphasizing litigation, mediation, arbitration, and negotiation skills) will be required of all students.
CLICK HERE to see a graphical representation of what the year may look like.
C. Subject Matter Offerings
Washington and Lee is convinced that any course subjects currently available to third year law students as part of a traditional law school curriculum may be offered through a practicum course with no fall off in breadth of coverage or intellectual depth and rigor. Because the new third year curriculum will engage a creative mix of traditional law faculty, new "professors of practice," and adjunct faculty drawn from the bench and bar, there will be a proliferation of courses available to students, thereby expanding the range of subjects that may be taught.
Whatever the specific subject matter of a practicum may be—antitrust, banking, corporate finance, securities law, tax, family law, environmental law, criminal law, employment law, intellectual property, estate planning, media law, or civil rights and civil liberties law—the teaching method must conform to the faculty guidelines for practicum courses. These guidelines, however, will have ample flexibility, allowing for the exercise of a wide array of legal skills and generation of many different forms of student work products. By way of illustration, here are a number of sample practicum courses taught by members of the Washington and Lee faculty:
CLICK HERE to read practicum course descriptions.
D. Presenting a Balance of Transactional and Litigation Experiences
By tradition, law school has been heavily weighted in favor of litigation experiences. Even in subject-matter areas that are in actual practice overwhelmingly transactional, law school courses often present the subject matter through the prism of litigation, using cases (in which by definition the transaction has in some sense failed) as the medium of study. The new third year should counter this historic bias, and offer a substantial mix of transactional experiences, including simulated, real-practice, and CLE experiences that are transactional in nature.
E. Globalization and Transnational Legal Practice
Washington and Lee is strongly committed to the notion that every law student should be exposed to educational experiences that introduce students to the globalization of law practice. Through the Washington and Lee Transnational Law Institute and the substantial number of law faculty who offer courses in private and public international and comparative law subjects, the Law School has already devoted substantial resources to the internationalization of our educational curriculum.
Students will have opportunities in the new third year program to pursue advanced applications of transnational legal education through practicum courses that are internationally focused, including the opportunity to participate in practicum courses that involve elements of travel and legal practice experience in other nations.
F. The Professionalism Program
The professionalism program will feature multiple components:
The Study of the Profession as a Profession
A significant premise of the Professionalism Program is that law schools should engage students not simply in the study of law as such but in the study of the legal profession as a profession. There are many intense challenges facing the legal profession, including the intense pressures created by the modern competitive legal business environment, the stresses of trans-jurisdictional practice, the pressures of globalization, the struggle to provide legal services to the indigent, the challenges domestically and internationally to the rule of law, the challenges of addressing issues of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, the role of lawyers in civil engagement and leadership, stresses on leading a good and decent and healthy life, balancing family or health or spiritual needs with the pressures of fast-paced practice, the breakneck pace of technological innovation, the perceived decline of civility, mentoring, and ethical sensitivity within some elements of the profession, the high debt load of graduating law students, the poor salary structures for judges, government lawyers, and public interest lawyers, and the perceived assault on the independence of courts. These issues are often studied by law students in the context of substantive course offerings. In the Washington and Lee third year program, they will also be studied in a disciplined manner as part of a coherent exploration of the legal profession itself.
The Development of Ethical Judgment in Context and in Action
Law Students will have already taken a course in Professional Responsibility during their second year of law school. The Professionalism Program will build on that course by presenting students with simulated practice conundrums in which ethical judgment must be exercised in simulated, real-world environments.
The Development of Professional Identity beyond Mere Adherence to Disciplinary Ethics Rules
Professionalism means a great deal more than minimal adherence to the legal profession's disciplinary rules. Lawyers are members of a self-governing profession, and their actions and demeanor reflect on the profession. Integrity; the avoidance of bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice; the treatment of others with respect, civility, and courtesy; the mentoring of less experienced lawyers; engagement in civil society; and community service are among the hallmarks of such professionalism.
Managing One's Life as a Lawyer
The professionalism program will include exploration of the challenges that arise in managing of one's life as a lawyer, including everything from time management to lifestyle balance issues to mental and physical health.
G. Alumni Mentors
Every third year student will be assigned to one alumni mentor. The mentor will be a volunteer, from anywhere in the country, who will agree to review regularly a student's progress through the third year curriculum, providing the student with feedback and guidance and generally serving as a professional friend and mentor.
H. Third Year Practice Certificate
All third year students at Washington and Lee will be required to obtain a Virginia third year practice certificate, providing an important solemnization and seriousness to the third year experience. The certificate allows students to handle real client matters and makes students provisional officers of the court and members of the profession, with all the obligations of ethical and diligent professional conduct that such status entails.
I. External Advisory Committee
Washington and Lee is inviting a distinguished group of external advisors to assist in the planning of this new curriculum. These advisors will be drawn from the highest levels of the judiciary, practicing bar, business world, journalism, and the academy.