Law Schools

Washington & Lee’s 3Ls Learn in-the-Trenches Practice

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An innovative program has third-year students at Washington and Lee University law school outside the classroom, learning about practice in the world.

This year’s program began with a two-week course that required students to handle a court case from start to finish, the Washington Post reports. “It was a grueling, sunup to sundown affair, not unlike the boot camp running next door at the Virginia Military Institute.” The second semester will open with another two-week intensive course.

In another class, law students played lawyers haggling over an expensive estate in a mediation session, a simulated case that had mirrored an estate battle in the Virginia courts.

The courses are among 20 new classes that focus on different areas of law that simulate legal proceedings. “The goal of the new lessons is to teach third-year students how law is practiced in the real world, in contrast to the sterile predictability of the classroom,” the Post says. “Students are working court cases from complaint to verdict, matching wits with opposing counsel, currying favor with judges and managing difficult clients, real and simulated.”

The program, launched this fall by law dean Rodney Smolla after six years of preparation, is optional this year for 3Ls, and 49 opted out. Next year it is mandatory.

Smolla recently announced he is leaving to become president of Furman University, but the law school has no plans to abandon the program. In the last five years, Washington and Lee has fallen from 22nd to 30th place in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. The innovative program could lead to a reversal.

Already, the law school has seen increased interest. This year 3,416 students applied for 135 seats, a one-third increase, the Post says.

Related coverage: “Rodney Smolla: Running a New Play”

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