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Legal Practice Program

The Legal Practice courses are a yearlong introduction to legal research, analysis, writing, and skills. In this course students begin to develop the writing and research skills that lawyers need in the practice of law. Legal Practice is a two-credit-per-term course taken on an honors/pass, C-/D+, D/fail basis by all first-year students. In connection with the Legal Practice course, students also take a one-credit Legal Practice Skills course. Successful completion of Legal Practice and Legal Practice Skills is a requirement for graduation.

During the first semester of Legal Practice, students consider what it means to be a lawyer in the role of counselor rather than in the role of advocate. Students prepare several writing assignments including a non-research and a research memorandum of law. They learn to present written analysis of the legal problem to a client or to a fellow attorney. They learn to write "persuasively" in a context that involves the need to persuade an often uninformed reader that the analysis is complete and accurate. Students come to appreciate how a commitment to honest and persuasive writing can promote analytic rigor. A series of rewriting exercises teach students how consistent redrafting makes their analysis more precise. Students also learn how to conduct legal research through class lectures, readings, demonstrations, and library exercises connected to the memoranda they write. Students learn traditional research methods in the first semester, along with training in computer research.

Another component of the first semester is instruction in some of the professional skills necessary for the practice of law. This instruction continues in the second semester and includes such subjects as oral advocacy, negotiation, alternative dispute resolution and drafting.

A goal of the second semester is to shift the students' focus from a neutral perspective to an advocacy perspective. Students develop skills in advocacy and persuasive argument through instruction in pre-trial procedures and pleadings, and through the drafting of pre-trial and trial motions. Students receive instruction in oral advocacy in the second semester and argue one of their briefs before a judge or panel of judges. Either a faculty member or local lawyer serves as a judge for oral arguments. In the second semester, students continue to refine and to learn research skills through writing assignments designed to incorporate issues that require students to develop research strategies.

The Legal Practice and Legal Practice Skills courses are taught by the Director of the Legal Practice Program and a staff of full-time Legal Practice professors. Second-and third-year students serve as research assistants for the Legal Practice professors and serve as "mentors" for the students. The Legal Practice Professors critique and grade the students' assignments, as well as hold conferences with individual students to discuss their progress in the course. Students learn to function in some of the ways lawyers do through close interaction with the Legal Practice professors and research assistants.