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The First-Year Adventure: Innovative new curriculum lets students choose their own path


By Madeleine ThomasThe Ohio State University Law School Magazine | Winter 2019 The First-Year Adventure

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Not every student starts law school with a clear picture of how they envision their career taking shape. Others don’t encounter the practice areas and specialties that could guide their legal studies in completely new directions until they start working in the field.

It’s the job of any law school to stoke the flames that keep students inspired to follow their dreams. Yet the number of required courses throughout the first, second, and third years of law school can sometimes leave little room for self-exploration.

As part of the college’s commitment to innovative teaching, a new one-of-a-kind 1L curriculum, the Legal Practice and Perspectives Program (LP3), began this autumn. For the first time, 1L students can select a portion of their initial coursework, with class offerings that provide rich, experimental viewpoints not always afforded by a more traditional, doctrinal curriculum.

LP3 courses will help first-year students tailor their professional identities from the onset of law school; enroll in courses more reflective of their personal interests; and think critically about their impact on society, how they envision justice within the legal system, and the types of clients they wish to serve.

“The creation of the program was a bold step, and I expect it will be a great success with both students and faculty,” said Paul Rose, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Frank E. and Virginia H. Bazler Designated Professor in Business Law; and Director, Law, Finance and Governance.

 

“I think of every LP3 course as having the potential to make a profound impact on the careers of future Moritz graduates.”

 

“From Criminal Law in Practice to Lawyers as Effective Communicators to Contract Drafting Skills and all of our other great LP3 courses, I expect many students will see those courses as instrumental in helping them find their paths as lawyers.”

 



Select LP3 offerings for the 2018-2019 academic year include:

Loving v. Virginia: Critical Race/Sex Analysis: Ruth Colker, Distinguished University Professor and Heck Faust Memorial Chair in Constitutional Law

Mildred Loving was instrumental to instigating the lawsuit against Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. She is never mentioned by name in the Court’s landmark ruling, Loving v. Virginia (1967) however, which struck down bans on interracial marriage nationwide.

In her course Loving v. Virginia: Critical Race/Sex Analysis, Professor Ruth Colker hopes her students will think less about doctrine and more critically about perspectives.

“The purpose of the course won’t be to criticize the court’s holding—I assume every student in the class will be comfortable with what the Court decided—but to say, even if you agree with the Court, let’s look at how the Court decided the case, how they described the people involved, and does this case in some ways, replicate patriarchy even though it’s a case that most feminists would say was correctly decided,” Colker said.

Trump and the Law: Professor Edward Foley, Charles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Chair in Constitutional Law, and director, Election Law at Moritz

Presidential conduct has threatened the rule of law in the United States before, as seen by Abraham Lincoln’s decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War and the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.

Students in Professor Edward Foley’s course Trump and the Law considered whether the Trump administration poses similar threats to democracy or is simply operating as politics as usual. They examined whether the U.S. legal system is equipped to handle issues raised by the presidency—including allegations of financial corruption among the Trump family and their associates—and studied the rise of extreme partisanship nationwide.

“If we collectively read foundational legal texts about the nature of the rule of law, separation of powers, and the role of a presidency in a federal or constitutional system, then we can more intelligently say on a day-to-day basis whether the system is working or not working,” Foley said.

Law Practice Technology: Paul Gatz, Reference Librarian

Students in Law Practice Technology will become familiar with the technologies they are bound to encounter in legal practice, from predictive analytics to artificial intelligence, and will learn to approach them with a discerning eye. They will also discuss the legal and ethical considerations surrounding technological competence, information literacy, network security, and metadata management. Encryption and security tools are essential to protecting sensitive client information, yet attorneys must be cautious about the security risks of cloud data storage, for instance. “[There] are clear trends that more and more law offices are adopting new technologies and that these technologies are being used in every aspect of legal practice: email and data storage obviously, but also billing, case management, discovery, and even in the courtroom,” said Paul Gatz, a reference librarian at the Moritz Law Library. “The only sure prediction is that legal practice technology will continue to evolve, and tomorrow’s attorneys will need to be able to spend their entire careers evolving along with it.”

Lawyers as Effective Communicators: Olwyn Conway, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law

Like actors, lawyers must be persuasive and authentic. Nothing prepared Professor Olwyn Conway better for the courtroom than the improv skills she picked up as an undergraduate theater major and as a member of the Philadelphia-based improv company ComedySportz.

Students in Lawyers as Effective Communicators will practice classic improvisation and theater exercises to develop close listening skills, trust their instincts, and learn to recover swiftly from mistakes. Improv games like Park Bench teach the class to use body language and voice techniques to achieve specific objectives. The course culminates in an applied improvisation exercise in which students receive a case file and are given the opportunity to try out various lawyering scenarios such as client interviews, negotiations with opposing counsel, and motions before a judge—all while receiving in-time feedback from Conway.

“Reflecting on what was useful to me as an attorney, listening and being able to be in the moment with someone was really helpful,” Conway said. “You can’t do improv unless you can listen to another person. If you’re listening, then you’re doing 90 percent of the work.”

LP3 offerings will vary each semester alongside current changes in society, law and legal practice, and are designated into two types. Perspective courses are more theoretical and philosophical in their approach, examining fields like postmodernist legal theory and legal realism. Practice courses will introduce students to at least two different legal skills, including developing client rapport or handling interpersonal contact.

“Students can take both experiential and theoretical courses that enrich the 1L curriculum by providing opportunities for skills development and exposure to diverse theoretical perspectives,” Rose said. “Skills training helps students hit the ground running when they graduate from Moritz and developing an understanding of diverse theoretical perspectives can help students become more effective listeners, communicators, and advocates.”