OFF THE RECORD - Seton Hall Law

Intro to Lawyering: More Than a Legal Research and Writing Course

Posted by Maya Grosz on 2/22/16 9:30 AM

1-RolePlay_109.jpgSeton Hall’s first year curriculum includes a class that is not found at many other law schools. It is called Introduction to Lawyering, and it is broadly ambitious. The course introduces students to the core skills, values, and professional habits that are integral to lawyering across many areas of practice. Fundamentally, the course is grounded in the practical experience of real lawyers. It is modeled on what real lawyers do. Seton Hall used to offer a class that is more typically offered at law schools across the country – Legal Research and Writing. So how does Introduction to Lawyering differ from Legal Research and Writing and why did we make this change?

Introduction to Lawyering (or “Lawyering”) is different from Legal Research and Writing (LRW) in a variety of ways. First, the class covers a broader range of skills that are used in real world practice and contextualizes research and writing within the representation of a client.

Lawyering includes rigorous instruction in legal research and writing, and the curriculum includes as many if not more research and writing assignments as were included in the LRW model. But in Lawyering the course is structured around simulated lawyering tasks or assignments that are designed to mimic the tasks that real world attorneys encounter.

In practice, writing and research assignments are not presented to lawyers out of context.

Research and writing projects arise out of the representation of real clients. So in Lawyering, our students meet with actors who are trained to play the “client.” Our students interview the client to gather the facts that then lead them to perform research and write a memo. And after they complete the memo, students meet with the client again to present the results of the research and to assist the client in making a decision about her legal question. In Lawyering the client is central to the assignment, and students learn invaluable oral communication skills while planning, executing, and debriefing their simulated interviews and counseling sessions.

Students also learn negotiation and oral argument skills, both of which are central to many areas of transactional and litigation practice. In teaching and evaluating these skills, students learn that success in practice depends not only on the written analysis that is traditionally emphasized in law school, but also upon these oral advocacy skills.

Lawyering also provides students with an opportunity that was not present with LRW – the opportunity to develop close mentoring relationships with full-time professors.

When LRW was offered at Seton Hall it was a three-credit course taught by adjunct professors. Lawyering is a six-credit class and is taught by full-time professors, many of whom teach doctrinal classes in other parts of the curriculum.

Lawyering classes are small, mostly 15-18 students, so the class atmosphere is intimate. And professors use experiential learning teaching strategies to encourage student participation. Thus students and faculty get to know each other well over the course of the year, and students leave Lawyering with a strong relationship with a full-time faculty member, who will remain a mentor throughout law school and beyond.

A final difference between LRW and Lawyering is that Lawyering consciously includes critical reflection as one of the core themes of the course. After each simulated exercise, whether it is a writing assignment, mock client interview, or mock oral argument, students reflect critically on their performance and compare their performance with the performance of one or more of their peers.

We engage in self-critique and peer-critique because the most successful lawyers are constantly evaluating their own work and the work of their colleagues to improve their skills and attain even better outcomes for their clients.

Along with reflection, students practice other professional habits that are critical to efficacy in the workplace such as collaboration techniques, professional email communication, and leadership.

In sum, Introduction to Lawyering lays the groundwork for a lifetime of stimulating, gratifying, and successful legal practice.To read more about Lawyering and student perspectives on the experience, click the button below.

Read More about Lawyering

Pictured above: Intro to Lawyering students Jason Sumbaly and Omid Irani role play with actor Megan Doss.

Topics: Classes and Courses, Experiential Learning, Writing

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