The Legal Skills & Professionalism Program
The SLS Legal Skills and Professionalism Program is designed to prepare students for the successful practice of law. During their law school careers, students will be exposed to legal writing and other practical skills through both required and elective courses. Prior to graduation, all students must complete a minimum of eleven credit hours in the area of writing and legal skills. The purpose of these courses is to teach students the practical conventions associated with law-related writing and lawyering skills as well as provide students an opportunity to practice them in a controlled setting. These courses also serve as a bridge between doctrinal courses and the practice of law by requiring students to consider and resolve legal questions in the context of specific fact patterns.
The core attributes of the Legal Skills & Professionalism Program involve:
- Teaching students how to identify rule structures and perform legal analysis through use of the legal syllogism and inductive, deductive, rule-based, analogical, counteranalogical, policy-based, and narrative reasoning.
- Preparing students for the practice of law through the integration of research, reasoning, and writing with legal doctrine and theory;
- Enabling students to develop problem-solving skills by simulating life-like circumstances requiring them to develop litigation strategies, formulate discovery plans, prepare for negotiations or mediation, and assess the enforceability of contract provisions; and
- Modeling professionalism and social responsibility while giving students the opportunity to evaluate professionalism issues through the use of in-class exercises and other assignments.
In the first year, every student is required to take Legal Writing, Research, and Analysis I and II. This two-part course concentrates on teaching students the basic skills required to perform legal analysis and effectively communicate that analysis both orally and in writing. The first semester, worth three credit hours, focuses on predictive writing, and students are taught the basics of legal research (both manual and online), document organization, citation rules, the legal syllogism, and various forms of legal reasoning. As a requirement of the course, students must complete two major written assignments. Through these assignments, students practice research, organization, and analytical reasoning skills.
In the second semester, worth three credits, students build on the basic skills introduced during the first semester and shift to persuasive writing. During class instruction students are exposed to rhetoric and advanced research and reasoning techniques. They then practice those skills through the research and writing of an appellate brief. Presentation of an oral argument is another mandatory assignment during the second semester where students practice the art of persuasion through oral advocacy. Throughout both the first and second semesters, students learn self-assessment of their work and also receive structured feedback in person and in writing.
To fulfill the remaining five hours of required upper-division writing credits, students may choose among the following courses: Pretrial Practice & Procedure, Transactional Drafting, and Advanced Appellate Advocacy. Each of these courses integrates writing with other skills like oral advocacy, negotiation, and motion practice. Additional electives students may choose to take are pass/fail courses and include:
- Client Interviewing & Counseling
- Mediation (qualifies toward state registration)
Beginning in the very first semester, each skills course is presented in a practical learning environment with a strong concentration in ethics and professionalism. The hypothetical problems present the students with life-like scenarios and realistic client characters. As students progress through the courses, they are encouraged to consider issues of confidentiality, plagiarism, fiduciary duty, and other professional and ethical matters. In addition, classes are taught by professors who are experienced lawyers and also by scholarly academicians. Students typically develop personal relationships with their professors who provide individually tailored and constructive feedback through both in-person conferencing and written critique.
The primary goal of the Legal Skills and Professionalism Program is to facilitate the integration of doctrinal knowledge and legal skills to create better lawyers. To that end, the Program faculty maintains consistency across the curriculum to ensure students are transferring skills from one classroom to another and ultimately into their professional practice.