What is the Law Firm Program?
The Law Firm Program is a series of course offerings that are structured to mimic the work assignments, feedback, and professional skills development that first-year lawyers would experience at law firms, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate legal departments.
The teaching methodology is experiential – that is to say, students learn by doing. There are no textbooks. Instead, the textbook is the real world case or transaction along with the briefs and contracts which serve as its foundation. Students will become accustomed to reading and analyzing statutes, contract provisions, cases, and articles published by and for practicing lawyers.
There are no exams. Instead, students will work on assignments that a new lawyer would expect to be given on their new job. These would include drafting a letter to a client, preparing a brief or motion in a court proceeding, drafting and negotiating the terms of an acquisition or employment agreement, making oral presentations, and interviewing a client about to be deposed in a litigation matter.
In the Anatomy of a Business Transactions course, for example, students learn about the process for acquiring a business, how to recognize and handle the many governance issues that arise in a typical transaction, and become familiar with the key provisions in an acquisition agreement. They also prepare (and possibly get to negotiate) some of the key documents and agreements used in an acquisition.
Students will also learn some of the day-to-day practicalities of the practice of law. For example, students will learn how to balance the need, on the one hand, to be thorough in their research with the reality, on the other hand, that many clients may not be willing to pay for research that involves an examination of every pebble of an issue on the beach. They will also explore common ethical and conflicts issues and how they should be resolved consistent with the rules of professional responsibility.
A key feature of the Law Firm Program courses is the regular one-on-one feedback students will receive on how well they have performed their assignments. In order to maximize these feedback opportunities, enrollment in most Law Firm Program courses is capped at fifteen to twenty students.
This unique set of courses has one other notable feature – the courses are all taught by lawyers with extensive real world practice experience. This means that students get to learn not just the law, but how the case or transaction, for example, evolved from start to finish, and how the various twists and turns came about – all from the vantage point of the lawyers who themselves were often involved in the case or commercial transaction.
How Are Law Firm Program Courses Different From My Other Courses?
Most of your other courses are designed to impart a substantive knowledge about a particular area of the law, like contracts, civil procedure, or criminal law. In contrast, the primary focus of the Law Firm Program courses is on the development of the practice skills you will need in the actual practice of law.
These include the art of negotiation, the ability to draft contract provisions, learning how to become an effective advocate through persuasive brief writing and oral advocacy, client development and communications skills, and the business of running a law firm practice as a small business.
These skills, however, are not taught in a vacuum. Rather, each Law Firm Program course is anchored to a substantive area of the law. This means that students can build upon the knowledge they learned previously from taking doctrinal courses in, for example, sales law or environmental law. Or, students can learn a new substantive area of the law, like securities regulation or family law, by taking a Law Firm Program course with those substantive areas of the law as the course focal point.
Unlike many of your other courses, the Law Firm Program courses emphasize learning by doing. This means that you are likely to have weekly written assignments, like drafting a letter to a client, or researching a new development in the law as reported in the financial press, as well as in-class individual and collaborative exercises.
The workload for Law Firm Program courses is designed to be comparable to that of your other courses. Many students, however, find the workload more demanding, especially in the early part of the course when they grabble with a different level and pattern of work assignments than what they might previously have become accustomed.
How Many Courses Are There?
When it was launched in 2007, the Law Firm Program started out with a single course – the Corporate Transactions course that was taught by Professors Carol Clark and Lloyd Semple. Since then, the number of course offerings has expanded to the twenty some courses that were offered in Term I of 2011 and Term II of 2012.
To assist students in selecting their LFP courses, the courses have been grouped into course clusters based on major substantive areas of the law or the type of law practice. These clusters include concentrations in Corporate Law, Environmental Law, Intellectual Property, International Law, Litigation, and Small Firm Practice.
Who Can Take Law Firm Program Courses?
All students are required to take three credit hours of Law Firm Program courses in order to graduate. There are no limits on how many courses you may take, subject to course availability. Indeed, the more of these courses you take, the better prepared you will be for the challenges that await you in the early years of your practice of law.
Because of the graduation requirement, seniors have enrollment priority in all Law Firm Program courses. Second year students are eligible to take Law Firm Program courses on a space available basis. Many Law Firm Program courses have prerequisites, so you should be sure to enroll in the prerequisite courses in the semester before you plan on taking your desired Law Firm Program course. For example, students who want to take the Anatomy of a Business Transaction LFP in the fall of their senior year should be sure to take Business Organizations during the preceding year.
In addition to these prerequisites, many of the Law Firm Program courses are structured as a “base” course in Term I and an “advanced” course in Term II. While students are not required to take both the base and advanced course offerings, you will get the most out of your learning experience if you plan on taking both courses. In all cases, taking the base course is a prerequisite for taking the advanced course. Currently, we offer basic and advanced courses in the areas of: corporate and business transactions, real estate, and pre-trial litigation.
Where Can I Learn More?
You can contact Professor Tom Saybolt who is the Director of the Law Firm Program.
In addition, you should take advantage of the Student Advising sessions that are held prior to the Term enrollment period. Professors will be available during those sessions that are familiar with the Law Firm Program course offerings for the upcoming academic year and will have available an updated list of LFP course descriptions for both Terms.