Washington and Lee Embarks on a New Third Year Curriculum: Embraces the Carnegie Report and Best Practices

            Washington and Lee University School of Law is dramatically changing its curriculum by creating a new third year curriculum devoted to professional development through simulated and real-client practice experiential learning.  Influenced by the Carnegie Report, Educating Lawyers, and Best Practices for Legal Education, the new third year curriculum integrates legal theory, doctrine and the development of professional, ethical judgment necessary to the development of professional identity.  This is one of the most comprehensive reforms in legal education undertaken by any law school.

         School of Law Dean Rod Smolla proposed the new curriculum, and a group of faculty, students, and administrators engaged in a six month process to vet the idea that legal education could do a better job of developing competent, ethical graduates.  Views from outside law professors, members of the legal profession, and alumni were solicited, and a number of meetings with students and alumni were held.  The faculty unanimously approved the new curriculum. 

         The focus of the new curriculum is on well-structured experiential learning, and information about the curriculum notes that the formative feedback from faculty and engaging students in the process of learning to learn from their experiences distinguish this new curriculum from simple work experiences. 

        The new curriculum will be phased in over the next three years, and it will be eventually become mandatory for all third year students.  All third year law students will obtain the Virginia law student practice certificate, and all will engage in practice consistent with the approved activities.  Activities will include interviewing and counseling of clients, alternative dispute resolution, and other skills and values that the MacCrate Report and Best Practices for Legal Education identified.  The School of Law currently has four clinics, and it plans to expand its clinical offerings. 

         The School of Law is financing the new curriculum by redeploying existing law school resources and by including the new curriculum as part of an upcoming fundraising campaign.  A complete description of the new curriculum, the rationale for adopting the new curriculum, and the process engaged in to adopt the new curriculum is available at http://law.wlu.edu/thirdyear.

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One Response

  1. I am impressed by W&L’s plans. I could not, however, find a description of the outcomes they hope to achieve with the new program. Without knowing what the program’s goals are, it will be difficult to design and implement the details.

    I also wonder what the school’s first and second year curriculums are like. Both the Carnegie Report and Best Practices explain the importance of giving more attention to skills and values instruction in the first and second year and using more teaching methods than casebook/Socratic dialogue, especially in the second year.

    Nevertheless, the school’s plans for the third year should provide a more engaging and beneficial learning experience than most third year students receive.

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