Admittedly, I have not looked at the W&L Law 3L program indepth prior to this date. I was just happy that they are trying to actually give the students some legal skills, but after viewing the almost gleeful reaction to W&L's placement rates, I thought I might look into this for myself.
My conclusion? The third year program is flawed. Still, it has the kernel of a really great program within it. It just needs to trim a lot of dead wood classes and concentrate on real world practice.
Here's how W&L Law describes its 3L year:
W&L Law's rigorous third year expands upon the lessons and law of the first- and second-year curriculum, moving students out of the classroom and into the real world of legal practice.I thought I'd look through this and grade everything on a scale of 0 to 5. 0 = absolutely useless; 2 = makes a student have about the same skills and hiring attraction as any other law student; 5 = makes law firm want to hire you more than the top Yale grad.
The third year consists of four components that blend the practical and the intellectual into a diverse range of simulated and real practice-oriented experiences:
- A two week long skills immersion at the beginning of each semester, one focusing on litigation and conflict resolution, the other on transactional practice
- Four elective courses, one real-client experience (either a clinic, an externship or a Transnational Human Rights program) and three additional electives taught in a problems-based, practicum style
- At least forty hours of law-related service
- Participation in a semester-long professionalism program.
(1) Skills Immersion (2 weeks each) -
Fall Semester: Interviewing, Partner Consultations, Client Counseling, Drafting, Client Communications, Discovery and Fact Investigation, Motions Practice, Persuasive Writing, and Advocacy and Trial Skills.Rate: 2 (Good stuff, but too short a time period to be useful)
Spring Semester: Negotiation Training (adversarial v. interest-based negotiation); Mediation Training.Rate: 3 (two weeks is exactly the amount of time that a law school should spend on negotiation-mediation-alternative dispute resolution for the entire three years; hopefully the academic obsession with this useless sidetrack is dying down)
(2) One "real client experience"
COMMUNITY LAW CENTER AT THE OLIVER HILL HOUSE (Legal Aid / Civil Rights)Rate: 1 (good experience if you plan to work in legal aid or civil rights - not much use otherwise & may tend to raise detrimental concerns with actual hiring law firms)
COMMONWEALTH’S ATTORNEY (Prosecutor's Office)Rate: 2 (courtroom experience)
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY (Prosecutor's Office)Rate: 3 (just the fact that it's the US Attorney looks good on the resume & exposure to the system)
STATE JUDICIAL EXTERNSHIPS (Research Assistant)Rate: 2.5 (exposure to the system, a judge's thought process, and legal research)
FEDERAL JUDICIAL EXTERNSHIPS (Research Assistant)Rate: 3 (exposure to the federal system, a federal judge's thought process, and legal research)
PRIVATE PRACTICE WITH GENTRY LOCKE RAKES AND MOORE (Assigned to a section: Corporate Litigation, Plaintiff Litigation, Insurance, Corporate Transactions, Employment, Land use/Zoning/Local Government)Rate: 3.5 (wow, a real law firm)
BLACK LUNG BENEFITS PROGRAMRate: 2.5 (administrative law practice; difficult)
COMMUNITY LEGAL PRACTICE CENTER (Legal Aid)Rate: 1 (good experience if you plan to work in legal aid or civil rights - not much use otherwise & may tend to raise detrimental concerns with actual hiring law firms)
CRIMINAL JUSTICE CLINIC (Misdemeanor Public Defender)Rate: 2 (courtroom experience)
TAX CLINIC (Legal Aid)Rate: 1 (good experience if you plan to work in legal aid or civil rights - not much use otherwise & may tend to raise detrimental concerns with actual hiring law firms)
VIRGINIA CAPITAL CASE CLEARINGHOUSE (Assist the Defense of Capital Cases)Rate: 3.5 (hard work and research in a complex area of law)
Transnational Human Rights
TRANSNATIONAL TRIBUNALSRate: 0.000005 (Really? Eurocourts?)
TRANSNATIONAL ACCESS TO JUSTICERate: 0.000005 (Euroleftism?)
TRANSNATIONAL EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS - SERBIARate: 0.000002 (Eurocourts as applied to one specific situation)
These would probably be very interesting courses and of no actual use whatsoever when the student tries to get a position at a US law firm.
(3) Electives taught in a problems-based, practicum style
Rate: 2 (a class taught at a law school is a class taught at a law school)
(4) 40 hours law related service -
Approved ways of getting hours: Legal Aid, Public Defender, Justice Center, Project Horizon, CASA, Virginia Poverty Law Center, ACS, VITA, Translator for any of the clinical programs, Innocence Project, Moot Court Board, Kirgis Fellows, Teaching Assistant for Undergraduate Mock Trial Team, Honor Advocates, Student Judicial Council (hearing work), Executive Committee (hearing work), and Law Journals.
Specifically Excepted: Work for a prosecutor or judge.Rate: 1 - (A) Shame on Washington and Lee for the pettiness of refusing to acknowledge work for a prosecutor or judge as law related service. There's no way that is anything other than ideological and shows a bias against public service if it is not of a certain flavor. (B) This form of imposed community service seems to be an ongoing fad at law schools. At best it is a harmless imposition of the professors' and administrations' biases upon the student. At worst it forces the student to pay money to a school so that he can be forced to work in an area which may hurt his chances with certain firms.
(5) Semester Long Professionalism Program
The Professionalism Course will be taught by Prof. Moliterno. The course will include units dealing with ethics and professional responsibility; the economics and financing of the legal system; examination of the "business aspects" of the profession; marketing and advertising of legal services; interactions with clients; a portraiture of the profession, including exploration of the different career paths and opportunities available to lawyers; time management and organizational skills; advanced instruction in litigation skills and the ethical issued posed by litigation decisions; advanced instruction in office practice and transactional skills and the ethical issues that arise in transactional practice; examination of the impact of globalization on law practice; examination of the impact of new technologies on law practice; discussion of work-life balance, stress, and lifestyle issues; exploration of the role of the lawyer as citizen participating in civic and community and corporate and leadership; and the future challenges, stresses, and "great issues" facing the profession.
Rate: 2 (I cannot tell exactly what this is. A year long ethics course would have gotten a 0.50. A year of being taught how law firms actually operate, concentrating on how the business aspect - tracking and paying taxes, hiring, file organization, business costs, etc. - is actually run in solo, small, and BigLaw firms would be a 3. The amorphous description above gets a 2.)
Overall Rating: 2
Let's be fair - W&L is not in competition with Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and Stanford. That's not to say that W&L is not an excellent school; it just means that if someone graduates from the aforementioned schools he will get hired just because of the school he went to without further examination. W&L Law is a school that gets you looked at above many graduates of other law schools, but it does leave you in a position that you have to compete and something has to be done to make you stand out. W&L is to be lauded for trying to set up a program that gives its students an edge.
However, this program is flawed. You can get excellent resume boosters and increase your ability to get hired through this program, but you are going to have to walk a minefield and avoid what appears to be the majority of the program.
The problem is that the program above seems geared to steer students into a certain world view and force the majority of them to prep for legal aid jobs. Legal aid is wonderful work for those who actually want to do it. For those who actually want to do it. The majority of students want and, because of massive academic loans, need jobs in the private sector which pay well. With this in mind, the emphasis on legal aid types of work is greatly over emphasized.
To be certain, legal aid programs should be offered and if only one of the programs offered above was available (particularly the Oliver Hill House) I would have probably rated it a 3. However, three different legal aid programs (four if you count Black Lung) are too many so they split the three points. Writing simple wills is something any law school graduate should be able to do with ease. Tax returns for people without serious amounts of money or tax dodging issues is something that H&R Block teaches its temporary hires in less than a week. Neither is particularly impressive. If a student is looking for this kind of work upon graduation it should be available, but it really should be limited to those interested. It appears, from the dominance in the curriculum that students may be forced into this area if they actually want an externship.
And what the heck is that transnational stuff? Needs to be dropped. Desperately needs to be dropped.
The school really needs more programs like the one which puts students in an actual firm doing research and learning how a firm actually operates. I realize that this is a little difficult for W&L because Lexington, Virginia is a somewhat remote. However, the school needs to reach out to as many firms as it can and basically offer its students as apprentices. A resume stating that John Smith worked at an actual firm which does insurance defense or contracts, or PI, or any of a number of type of practice means he has actually been exposed to real legal work of a kind similar to what the hiring firm will have him doing. Now imagine that same hiring firm which does insurance defense or writes contracts for IBM, ExxonMobil, Ford, Microsoft, etc. getting a resume which says the student took a class on transnational justice or did legal aid. Think that's going to be a plus?