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March 15, 2008

Starting a radical law school revolution at Wash & Lee

Though mentioned by Mark here, Washington and Lee's new radical reform of its 3L yeay deserve a lot of attention.  Notably, a while ago in this post, I set out the seemingly radical idea of having an entire 3L year in which students could not take standard doctrinal courses.  The new Wash & Lee program takes this idea further: as Dean Rod Smolla explains here, Wash & Lee is "entirely reinventing the third year to make it a year of professional development through simulated and actual practice experiences."

After reading this helpful pdf describing the new Wash & Lee program, I no longer view these comments by Dean Smolla (with may emphasis added) as overstatement:

This is one of the boldest reforms in American legal education since Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell pioneered the new curriculum at Harvard Law School in the late 19th century.  For the next 100 years, American law schools largely followed the Harvard model, and in many respects it has worked remarkably well.

We are at a turning point in the history of the legal profession and the history of legal education. As the Carnegie Foundation's influential 2007 report, "Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law," forcefully explained, while the Langdell model works extremely well in the first year to teach students the essential building blocks of legal theory, reasoning, and doctrine, it is an incomplete vision of what it should mean to prepare a lawyer for the profession.

There is a need to be met in our service to the public and the profession.  Many law schools from across the spectrum of legal education are responding to these forces with innovations and reforms.  Five years from now, legal education will have changed.  At Washington and Lee, we are proud to be a leader in this national movement.  We believe it is incumbent on our Law School to be more ambitious in our mission and innovative in our approach to education....

Our purpose is to transform law school into a three-year progression from the purely academic study of law to the development of the lawyer's professional role as counselor and advocate in the highest ethical traditions of the profession.

Valuably, Wash & Lee has created this great webpage to help media report on its new curriculum, and I have found these early reports on the school's efforts to start a law school revolution:

  • From the National Law Journal here, "School's third-year program overhauled to teach practice of law"
  • From Inside Higher Ed here, "Overhauling Law School’s Third Year"

March 15, 2008 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink


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The trouble with thinking you went to a great law school is that most of us only go to one, so we have no comparisons.

W&L is known for its fabulous legal clinics. I was in one, and can say it was the most valuable parts of my legal education and career.

I thought all schools were this good! Then I went into the world and heard about programs (or lack thereof) in other law schools. Most did not hold a candle to W&L.

So, I welcome this new development as just more of the same greatness I expect from W&L's clinical programs!

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