Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The New (and Improved) 1L: First Year Lawyering with Clients

The New 1L: First Year Lawyering with Clients, published by Carolina Academic Press, explores a novel concept in law teaching—the possibility of incorporating real legal work with real clients into the first-year curriculum.   

This book fascinated me, mostly because this idea has never crossed my mind, and I’ve never before heard anyone discuss incorporating this type of coursework into the 1L curriculum. But the authors have convinced me not only of the soundness of doing so but also that the benefits outweigh the challenges.

The New 1L is a primer on integrating client work into the first-year curriculum. The authors outline the many ways they and their schools have incorporated this type of work: through doctrinal courses, through legal writing courses, and through collaborations between already established clinics and doctrinal and legal writing courses.

And, of course, the authors offer loads of practical advice that professors and curriculum committees need to modify the curriculum or individual courses to include real-client work. They discuss how they find clients to work with, divide work amongst students, evaluate and provide feedback on student work, and address ethical considerations. Importantly, because the authors have instituted client work in the 1L curriculum in a variety of ways, The New 1L offers something for everyone, whether you’d just like to dip your toe in these uncharted (or barely charted) waters or are ready to dive in headfirst.   

What’s In It for Students?

The authors outline a number of benefits for students including:

-the opportunity to perform meaningful work and find the personal satisfaction that comes from helping a real person with real legal issues

-the ability to provide legal assistance to those who could not otherwise afford it

-the opportunity to address some of the ethical and moral issues that face practicing attorneys

-the chance to confront the messiness and uncertainty of law practice

According to the authors, these benefits square with law schools’ “new normal”—the need to increase clinical experiences and the expectation that law schools will produce “practice-ready” graduates.

The authors—from different law schools across the country—agree that students take their assignments in courses with real clients more seriously because they know that their actions have real consequences. Further, according to the authors, students’ legal analyses are stronger and more thoughtful and their arguments better developed and more persuasive than those produced by students working on canned legal assignments.

By introducing real client work right at the beginning of their legal education and integrating the teaching of doctrine, lawyering skills, legal research and writing, and professional responsibility with ongoing clinic cases…students are able to make connections between their learning in these courses with future client work.
-The New 1L

What’s In It for Me?

Perhaps my favorite section of The New 1L is “Impacts on Faculty.” Many of us are pressed for time as is, and developing a curriculum that includes client cases in the first year seems extraordinarily challenging, if not impossible. The difficulty in pushing a curriculum change through. The need for flexibility within the semester. The possibility that legal research won't reveal any authority on the client's legal issue. Why would anyone voluntarily undertake such a gargantuan task?

The authors offer numerous benefits for faculty beyond the institutional need to produce practice-ready graduates. According to the authors, incorporating client work into the first-year curriculum:

-energizes faculty and makes teaching more fun

-gives the opportunity for legal writing, clinical, and doctrinal faculty to work together and learn what other professors do

-results in the opportunity for faculty scholarship

-produces a pool of trained students who can serve as TAs or research assistants after the course has concluded

The most important parts of this book, I think, are those in which the authors explain how they negotiated the political processes in their institutions to get support for the programs. One school built a first-year experiential learning program from the ground up, while the rest incorporated client work into pre-existing first-year curriculum. The authors have dealt with numerous, varied objections to changing the first-year curriculum to include client work and offer suggestions for navigating institutional minefields to garner support from deans, doctrinal professors, and clinicians alike.     

The New 1L is a quick read that is chock full of valuable information and inspiration for those interested in improving 1L curriculum through the addition of real client work. As I said, I’m inspired by this book and think others will be as well. In the face of changing legal education, I think (and hope) the ideas offered in The New 1L become the standard and get students—from the beginning—participating in and thinking about the types of work they’ll actually be doing in practice.   

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