Law School Works to Expand Practice-Based Opportunities in Light of New Requirement

by Jaime Welsh

Beginning with the most recent 1L class, all entering J.D. students must satisfy a new practice-based learning requirement, a requirement the Law School adopted last year.  Since then, the Law School administration has been hard at work expanding clinical opportunities for students to fulfill this requirement.

Dean Paul Chill was named the Law School’s first Associate Dean for Clinical and Experiential Education last fall and has been “hard at work trying to create new clinics” since his appointment, he said.  Since the practice-based learning requirement has not yet gone into effect (1Ls cannot enroll in clinics nor satisfy the externship requirement), Dean Chill has concentrated on building for next year.

According to the Academic Regulations, the experiential learning requirement can be satisfied by successfully completing either: (1) a clinic, or a course designated as satisfying this requirement; or (2) an individual externship that includes at least 168 hours of field work, a seminar component, and is certified by the Externship Director as providing high-quality placement supervision.

Two new clinics that Chill hopes to bring to the Law School are an Elder Law clinic and a School Law clinic. Chill is also taking into consideration how evening students can satisfy the clinical requirement.  An Elder Law clinic “might be particularly valuable for evening students” due to the possibility of weekend involvement, said Chill.  It is possible that this clinic will be rolled out as early as the 2014-2015 academic year. As for the School Law clinic, in which students would be placed with attorneys from local school boards, the timeframe is currently fall of 2015.

Chill also mentioned that there has been interest in setting up a program to assist veterans and in setting up a Disability Law clinic.  However, those initiatives are still in preliminary discussions and would be years away from realization, Chill cautioned.  How many new clinics the Law School will create is somewhat dependent on capacity.  The Law School wants to have enough clinical capacity so that students have some choice, but there is also a need to balance so that there are not a lot of empty seats in clinics, said Chill.

Students may also satisfy their practice-based learning requirement through an externship.  Students who choose to do so will be required to enroll simultaneously in a graded, one credit externship seminar, which is a new addition to the curriculum.

“If [students] satisfy the experiential requirement through an externship, [they] will need to complete the course,” said Chill.

Chill and Professor Jennifer Mailly are still in the process of planning the new seminar, but it will focus on everything from ethical issues that come up in externship placements to workplace etiquette, and there will be a strong reflective component, said Chill.  The seminar will be used in part to help students refine their goal setting (both personally and professionally), and to make the learning that goes on at the externship more of a conscious process.

“Learning continues in practice and a lot of it will be self-directed,” said Chill.  The externship seminar will focus on teaching skills that make students lifelong learners, who know how to teach themselves.

Both Chill and Mailly recently attended a conference in Denver on law school externship programs, where they “learned a tremendous amount,” said Chill.  Nationwide, law schools are trying to restructure externships in order to maximize educational value.  However, there is still very little consensus as to how this should be done.

Along with this new focus on practice-ready skills, Chill explained that the faculty is “talking increasingly about incorporating experiential learning techniques in non-clinical courses.”  The curriculum review committee is also working continuously on new proposals, he said.