Recently I had a conversation with another lawyer along the lines of whether students can truly be prepared for the practice of law without a substantial live interactive component in their legal education. We discussed whether posting in a chat box or written discussion would adequately train students to become lawyers. We both agreed: the answer is no.
There is an important place for text chats and for written discussions in legal education. But the real world practice of law requires lawyers to speak, argue, persuade and present the law verbally in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, lawyers must be able to discuss the law with their clients. They must be able to argue the law verbally to the judge in a courtroom. They must be able to discuss and present their cases intelligently with mediators in settlement discussions. Lawyers must be able to argue the merits of the law with their adversaries. A good lawyer must be able to cross-examine witnesses. Lawyers must be able to summarize the merits of their cases and argue the application of the law, verbally, to juries. These important skills cannot be learned by reading, writing, and watching “how to” videos alone.
To learn to ride a bike, you cannot watch a video about riding a bike; you need to get out there on the bike and fall down a few times, learn to balance, come to a sudden stop, and swerve out of the way in order to see how you really need to ride. Legal education should be no different.
In law school myself one of my most memorable lessons was with then prosecutor, my Professor Carol Corrigan, now a California Supreme Court Justice, in my trial advocacy course. I planned my argument very carefully. I laid it out on a set of notecards, very well-organized. In class we were videotaping each student as we each presented oral arguments. Professor Corrigan walked up to me and asked if I was ready to argue. I said yes. She grabbed my stack of notecards and politely took them away from me and said, “Go.” I gave my argument without them – I had no choice. Watching my fellow students was part of the learning experience. Professor Corrigan’s critique throughout that class helped me prepare for my legal career in the courtroom in a way that reading about and watching an oral argument alone never could.
At St. Francis School of Law, every live interactive class is a student exercise in learning how to talk about the law. Students are called upon by professors to discuss and critique cases, and to answer hypothetical client problems by applying the law to the facts. Twice a week, everyone is online live, face to face, voice to voice, in small classes where students and professors see and hear each other in real time streaming video. Students discuss, debate, critique, and learn from fellow students’ comments and presentations, as well as the direct interaction with their professors.
St. Francis School of Law offers a curriculum steeped in practical lawyering skills, including oral argument. In our criminal law course, students argue a sentencing motion. In our Alternative Dispute Resolution Class, students actively negotiate, mediate and arbitrate cases, with individual students assigned roles as counsel, clients, mediators and arbitrators, under the supervision of professors who are highly experienced attorneys. In our Advanced Legal Writing course, students write and argue a motion to a mock court, with a mock judge peppering them with questions. Students also write and argue an appeal to a mock appellate panel of judges questioning them about their arguments.
When I think about Justice Corrigan, who was a prosecutor when I had her as a professor, I realize that only professors who’ve been there and done that can deliver authentic practical professional training. Some law schools find it challenging to deliver a genuine practical skills curriculum because many of their professors practiced law very little, choosing to go into a more theoretical academic path early in their legal careers. Sometimes professors are teaching courses in areas in which they never practiced law. They have little to add beyond what can be learned straight out of the book. At St. Francis School of Law, our faculty members have substantial real world experience in the practice of law in the areas they are teaching. This enables our faculty to deliver practical professional skills instruction that brings the real world practice of law into the online classroom.
Regardless of the type of lawyer you may want to be, learning the practical professional lawyering skills involved in discussing the law, arguing, persuading, and communicating with clients, arbitrators, mediators, judges and juries is a critical component that makes a successful practicing attorney. St. Francis School of Law’s online Juris Doctor program prepares you for the real world practice of law.