The University of San Diego Law School – Experiential Advocacy Practicum
Written by NITA guest blogger Linda Lane
The University of San Diego Law School has just completed the first semester of the second year of its new, Experiential Advocacy Practicum course, a required first-year class where law students get to experience “learning by doing” in the context of a piece of litigation in the Fall semester and a transactional deal in the Spring. The course has proven a success and comments from students that have completed the course include ones like the following:
“I am interning at a small civil litigation firm this summer…and have put many of the skills learned during the first semester of EAP to good use. I have been conducting client interviews by myself and writing complaints based off those interviews. They have also had me sift through numerous depositions for pertinent information and summarize them. The background EAP provided made an enormous difference in the quality of my work and made what would have been a steep learning curve a smooth plateau.”
In the Fall, when students begin the course, they are immediately assigned the role of defense counsel or plaintiff’s counsel in a filed negligence case. Students are issued NITA case materials in three installments, to mimic the way practicing attorneys receive case information during the life of a case. Initially, students are presented with the complaint, answer, jury instructions, and newspaper articles regarding the event in question. Midway through the course, the students are provided discovery responses, both to interrogatories and requests for documents. Finally, at the end of the semester, students are given deposition transcripts from witnesses in the case. The skills taught to the students and practiced by them in their small breakout sections include client interviews, depositions and oral advocacy through the presentation of a closing argument. The students also practice informal but common legal communications by drafting email summaries of their tasks and findings to their law partners.
In the Spring, students are immersed in the world of transactional law and are tasked with negotiating a deal and creating a term sheet for that deal. Students are assigned roles of buyer’s counsel or seller’s counsel, and they are given side-specific instructions from their fictional partner on the case as to what their tasks will be. During the course of the semester, students conduct a client interview, engage in brainstorming and drafting sessions, and conduct a final negotiation of their deal with the other side’s counsel. The end result is a term sheet drafted by the parties.
The Experiential Advocacy Practicum was designed, in part, as a response to the ABA’s new requirement that students graduate from law school with six (6) credits of experiential learning. Students at USD School of Law now have two of these credits completed by the time they finish their first year of law school. But, perhaps more importantly, this course is also a direct response to the cry of future employers that law students receive more practical skills training from the early days of their law school careers. This course gives students invaluable insights in to the daily lives of a litigation attorney and a transactional attorney so that students can begin to articulate what area of law they are interested in and why –a critical skill during interviews where many times students do not have enough information to make an informed decision about what type of law interests them.
The highlight of USD’s Experiential Advocacy Practicum is the close involvement in the course of adjunct professors, local practicing litigators and business attorneys. Throughout the semester, students break in to small groups of 8-12 to perform their tasks, whether this be the client interview, deposition, closing argument, negotiation, or drafting session. Each small section is taught and led by an experienced lawyer specializing in that area of law. Students rotate between different adjuncts for each small section meeting so that by the end of the year, they have been exposed to as many as seven practicing attorneys in this small section format. Adjunct professors for the course are meant to represent a variety of practices to expose students to possible careers in the law. USD is fortunate enough to have a team of highly successful practicing attorneys teaching the students. This team includes representatives from the public sector (Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District Attorneys, Public Defenders, City Attorneys), large international litigation firms, boutique specialty firms, solo practitioners, and in-house counsel. These lawyers provide the students with structured critique and tips for improvement. Moreover, these lawyers provide the students with an opportunity to network and learn about life in various careers after law school.
As we were designing the practicum, we knew we wanted to provide the students with a balanced, fictional case file which was simple enough to allow them, as junior law students, to sink their teeth in to the facts and not be overwhelmed by legal analysis, yet allow for a meaningful application of law to the facts of a specific case. NITA case files presented this perfect balance. We have been working directly with NITA’s publication department to modify negligence case files to present them to the students in our specific, desired way. NITA allowed us to tailor the case file to our exact course needs and provided a platform for meaningful learning and doing by our students. Although NITA is better known for its litigation case files, we were also able to utilize the platform from one of its rarer, transactional case files to update and modify the facts for our purposes. True to form, NITA was a responsive and creative partner in this process.
[San Diego practitioner Linda Lane, a certified NITA faculty member, is the Annsley and George Strong Professor in Residence for Trial Advocacy at USD School of Law. She designs and oversees the course as well as lectures to the students on various litigation-related topics. Lane is also overseeing the 26 small sections, led by experienced practitioners who, as adjunct professors, work with our students, in teams and individually, to teach these important practice skills.]
NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.
NITA’s Goals are to: