Example Third Year Practicum Courses
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:
Currently operating in Cambodia and in Liberia, the International Law Practicum enables students to work directly with practicing lawyers on cutting-edge international law issues.
The focus of the Cambodia Practicum is defense work with the lawyers at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The ECCC is a hybrid institution established by the UN and the government of Cambodia to prosecute the Khmer Rouge leadership for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed from 1975-1979. Insofar as a vigorous defense is essential to the quality and credibility of any war crimes proceeding, students play an invaluable function in the machinery of justice by preparing research, memos, and trial materials for the assigned counsel in Cambodia. Several students enrolled in the Practicum have traveled to Cambodia.
The Liberia Practicum accords W&L students the opportunity to help develop and implement a legal assistance program in Liberia, West Africa, to provide legal aid for persons in communities, including victims, defendants, and suspects at all critical stages in domestic criminal cases. One aspect of this practicum is travel to Liberia to assist in training. This practicum offers insights on policy matters and on the role of law in development.
This course is aimed at students who expect to be legal advisors to business leaders. The principles of law learned in the corporate, tax, and other commercial courses are drawn together as students perform lawyer-like work on common, but complex and intellectually-demanding, business transactions. All work is closely supervised and carefully evaluated.
Students, for example, advise two entrepreneurs as to the best organizational form for a start-up biotech venture, writing a six-page analytical memo detailing and supporting their views. They then prepare an actual operating agreement for an L.L.C. for the proposed deal. They do this work, however, only after engaging in an in-depth analysis of state statutory provisions and federal income tax rules governing unincorporated business entities. They also confront intellectual property topics, professional responsibility concerns, and a host of other business and finance issues as they design the optimal business arrangement for the venture.
Students next confront a challenging financing issue. Drawing on their understanding of securities regulation—covering both public offerings and private capital formation—they analyze and express views on the choice between conducting an IPO or entering a corporate joint venture to finance a growing business. They then negotiate and prepare a detailed letter of intent, addressing all pertinent issues, for a proposed Delaware corporate joint venture between the L.L.C. they earlier formed and an unrelated public corporation.
Finally, students handle selected issues associated with the purchase and sale of a business. They work with an Asset Purchase Agreement and ancillary documents and see how a broad range of legal subjects must be thoroughly understood and addressed in order to handle a complex sale and purchase transaction.
This course considers the principal tax and asset-management issues encountered in a sophisticated estate planning practice. The emphasis is on planning and drafting to accomplish tax-efficient inter-generational transfers of wealth. The course also considers asset-management issues, including such topics as planning for incapacity, devising strategies to protect assets from creditors' claims, planning for business succession, and estate and trust administration.
Students will acquire a solid grounding in estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxation, as well as the special income tax rules that apply to trusts and estates and their beneficiaries. Students will also be exposed to the law of wills and the laws governing executors and trustees.
All topics will be approached through simulated live-client experiences, in which students will interview and advise clients concerning wealth transmission issues, draft estate planning documents, counsel executors and trustees, counsel trust and estate beneficiaries, negotiate with the Internal Revenue Service, and the like. There will no final examination, and grades will be based entirely on students' performance in the various mock exercises.
Advanced law students learn better when asked to resolve real problems drawn from real life, just as they will be asked to do in practice. To mirror the real world, the experiences and problems in Advanced Family Law roughly parallel the progression of a relationship that begins with marriage and ends in divorce, from drafting an initial prenuptial agreement to filing of a divorce petition through post-trial proceedings to settle the couple's financial and custody arrangements. Thus students:
- Negotiate a prenuptial agreement, representing intended husband or intended wife;
- Represent the intended father in a surrogate parenting arrangement;
- Do oral argument in a contested custody proceeding between the natural father and a surrogate mother;
- Argue on behalf of surviving family members before the federal fund established for victims of 9/11;
- Prepare a legal memorandum in support of the characterization of stock funds as marital property;
- Prepare an affidavit in support of a motion for pendente lite support;
- Negotiate a settlement agreement resolving all matters arising out of a marriage, including child support, child custody, equitable distribution of property and spousal maintenance, and prepare the supporting documentation.
Together these exercises are intended to convey the broad range of skills and values that a lawyer must possess to provide competent counsel.
Students in Advanced Family Law consider the potential effects of procedural rules and ethical rules, as well as the unwritten customs and practices of lawyers. For instance, will a prenuptial agreement that takes every gain imaginable for one side while giving very little in return, be likely to be enforced? If information known only to one side must be disclosed in the course of negotiation, should the attorney or the client disclose that information?
While teaching substantive legal doctrines, the course also emphasizes the art of lawyering. Students explore the roles and relationships between attorneys and clients—and between attorneys, senior partners, judges and opposing counsel. Students bill for their time. They consider how ethical doctrines like confidentiality that constrain their choices in representing a client. For example, how should an attorney approach the negotiation of a prenuptial agreement with opposing counsel? How does an attorney manage the client's own expectations?
The experience of hands-on lawyering instills a deep appreciation of the importance of high quality work and of integrity in the legal profession. It also drives home how difficult it can be to practice law properly and illustrates the need to do the best work possible for every client.