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Legal Practice Program: An Immediate Engagement in Developing Professional Skills

Michigan’s Legal Practice Program is a yearlong set of courses taken by all first-year students, in which they receive individualized instruction to begin developing the skills that are necessary to practicing law.

The Legal Practice courses are taught in small individual sections by full-time clinical professors. The Legal Practice professors critique and grade students’ assignments, and hold numerous conferences with individual students to provide formative feedback and discuss their progress. Via intensive critiques from their professors, students learn how constantly revising their work product makes their analysis more precise and their arguments more persuasive. This close relationship with the Legal Practice professors helps prepare students for the interactions they’ll have with senior attorneys and clients when they enter practice. Second- and third-year students assist by serving as mentors for the students.

The yearlong Legal Practice program comprises three separate courses: Legal Practice: Fundamentals of Legal Writing and Analysis and Legal Practice Skills I in the first semester, and Legal Practice Skills II in the second. The combined course sequence is graded at the end of the second semester on an Honors/Pass, C-/D+, D/Fail basis. Successfully completing Legal Practice is required for graduation.

The two first-semester courses introduce students to the fundamental analytical and writing skills that they’ll continue developing over the rest of the year, as well as other essential lawyering skills. Students are expected to prepare at least one extensive written assignment, learning to present objective written analysis of a legal problem to a client or a fellow attorney, and to persuade their reader that their analysis is complete and accurate. In doing so, students come to appreciate how a commitment to scrupulously thorough writing promotes analytic rigor. They are also exposed to and often prepare additional types of customary legal work product, such as client letters and professional emails. Students also receive their initial exposure to legal research sources and strategies, learning how to find the law they need to adequately advise and represent their clients. Throughout the first semester, students are placed in the role of a lawyer representing a client in assorted factual circumstances, and are then taught how and why lawyers might bring to bear various skills in those situations. These skills can range from client interviews to counseling to fact investigation and assessment.

The second semester continues the skills- and client-based focus, with a goal of shifting students into the role of an advocate. In many Legal Practice sections, students have the opportunity to put their newly-developed skills into play by performing legal work for real clients in the Ann Arbor area. In the classroom, students develop skills in advocacy and persuasive argument through instruction in pre-trial procedures, pleadings, and drafting pre-trial motions. These assignments are designed to challenge students’ ability to develop research strategies and to continue to refine their research skills. They then have one or more chances to make oral arguments to a judge or panel of judges. Students are also introduced to transactional practice and skills, such as learning how to negotiate with other parties in a transactional setting followed by drafting agreements to memorialize the results of those negotiations. As the course progresses, students are repeatedly reminded of how their professional and ethical obligations affect the choices they make when representing clients.