An important part of a law school curriculum is the hands-on, applied, experiential learning opportunities that a prospective law school offers. Law schools offer many different types of experiential learning that allow students to “practice” and develop lawyering skills before graduation. You can learn more about experiential learning from the ABA rules governing legal education. Here are a few of the common experiential learning opportunities present at law schools:
Actual/Real Client Experiential Courses
The following types of experiential courses provide students with the opportunity to work on legal matters for actual/real clients. This work is conducted under the supervision of licensed attorneys.
- A law clinic is a type of experiential learning program in which law students provide legal services to clients under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Law clinics are typically operated by law schools “in-house” or in partnership with external legal service-providing institutions. They offer students the opportunity to gain practical experience in the law while providing valuable services to the community. Law clinics typically specialize in a specific area of law ranging from immigration to housing to civil rights to family to criminal to financial to veterans’ affairs. Clinics often provide legal assistance to underserved populations, such as low-income individuals or victims of domestic violence.
Clinics are credit-earning courses that are managed by a faculty member, who is also typically the supervising attorney. Through clinics students typically attend a class session as well as conduct legal work. Students may engage in a variety of legal activities, such as conducting legal research, drafting legal documents, representing clients in court, and negotiating with opposing parties. In some states, law students enrolled in clinics may need to apply for a special student license with the Board of Bar Examiners. In Illinois, this is called a “711 License”.
- Field placement is an experiential opportunity where law students have the opportunity to earn credit while also participating in actual client legal work. Field placements may be very similar to clinics, however, they are often taught by an adjunct faculty member who is not a full-time member of the law school faculty and may only be offered during certain semesters. Field placements are typically partnerships with existing government or legal aid offices already providing legal services within the community. In addition to the legal work conducted by students under the supervision of a licensed attorney, there is also a course component that may include lectures or regular assignments. One of the most common types of field placement courses is an externship – read more on those below!
- A legal externship is an experiential learning opportunity in which law students work with practicing attorneys or judges to gain practical experience in the legal profession. Legal externships are basically credit-earning “internships”. In a legal externship, students secure a position with an organization such as a government agency or nonprofit legal aid organization working under the supervision of a licensed attorney or judge.
During the externship, students may engage in legal research, draft legal documents, attend court proceedings, participate in client meetings, and do other legal activities. Externships are credit earning and are typically unpaid, although some may be paid depending on the externship program and specific placement.
Legal externships are available in a variety of legal practice areas, including civil rights, criminal defense, corporate law, environmental law, intellectual property law, and more. Participating in a legal externship can be a valuable experience for law students, as it enables them to gain practical skills, make professional connections, earn credit hours toward their degree, and gain insight into the legal profession. Externships are very popular activities for students during the summer between 1L and 2L year, and some students will also participate in externships during the academic year.
Simulated experiential courses provide students the opportunity to develop skills necessary to practice law by recreating real-life legal scenarios and procedures. These courses do not provide include actual client work.
- Trial courts are courts of first review for legal issues where issues of evidence and facts are determined.
For example, in a criminal trial for murder, a prosecutor will attempt to present sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict, asking the jury to determine if there is enough evidence (facts) to prove the defendant committed the crime of murder as the law defines murder.
Trial advocacy courses in law school are designed to teach law students the practical skills necessary to be effective advocates in a trial setting including oral advocacy, courtroom strategy, motion practice, and evidence presentation.
In trial advocacy courses, students are taught to master the art of persuasion and to develop techniques for communicating complex legal concepts to juries in a compelling and understandable manner. The curriculum also includes instruction on the principles of evidence, the rules of courtroom procedure, and the strategies and tactics of trial advocacy.
Trial advocacy courses usually include simulated trials where students are required to present opening statements, conduct direct and cross-examinations of witnesses, introduce evidence, and present closing arguments. In addition to simulations, trial advocacy courses often involve lectures, workshops, and seminars.
- Moot court is a curricular offering in law schools that simulates appellate court proceedings. Appellate courts consider cases in which a trial court has previously issued a judgment.
For example: If a defendant was convicted of murder by a trial court, defense attorneys may choose to appeal that verdict to an appellate court.
Appellate courts consider issues of law and therefore require different procedures. Moot court allows students the opportunity to enhance legal writing, advocacy skills, legal analysis, and oral argument abilities.
Moot court involves a hypothetical case that is typically based on real legal issues. Students are provided a packet of information that simulates a trial court record and judgment. Students will research legal issues presented in the “trial court packet” and then draft a “legal brief”. Students will work in teams and consider 2-4 legal issues which they will argue in their brief supported by existing case law. Once briefs are completed, students will prepare an oral argument to present to a panel of “judges” typically comprised of law professors, practicing attorneys, or judges who represent an appellate court. Oral arguments are typically timed as in real court proceedings, and students are expected to argue convincingly, persuasively, and professionally.
Moot court classes often include an internal law school competition, however, there are many moot court competitions hosted annually each year across the country. Students may compete in these external annual competitions for credit after advancing from the internal moot court competition or having been selected through tryouts. Some students may compete in such competitions as an extracurricular activity if their law school does not have a credit-earning team.
Moot court provides law students with a valuable opportunity to develop essential advocacy skills, such as legal writing, critical thinking, legal research, public speaking, and persuasion.
Additional Simulated Courses
Law schools offer simulated courses in many different aspects of legal practice. Some common types of additional simulated courses are listed below:
- Negotiation courses teach law students the skills and techniques necessary to effectively negotiate in legal settings through hypothetical scenarios. These courses also provide students with a strong foundation in the theory and practice of negotiation, emphasizing the importance of preparation, communication, and problem-solving through regular lectures.
Negotiation courses often emphasize the importance of communication skills in negotiation, including active listening, effective questioning, and persuasive speaking. Students learn to develop and deliver persuasive arguments, build rapport with their negotiating partners, and manage emotions and conflicts that may arise during negotiations.
Negotiation courses are important as these are essential skills and knowledge for any legal practice.
- Client counseling is a course offered in law school that focuses on developing skills in communication, problem-solving, and relationship-building with clients. The goal of the course is to help law students become more effective in working with clients in a variety of legal contexts, such as litigation, transactional law, or alternative dispute resolution.
In client counseling courses, students learn techniques for effective communication with clients, such as active listening, empathetic response, and effective questioning. They also learn strategies for problem-solving and decision-making with clients, such as identifying the client’s goals, assessing legal risks, and evaluating potential outcomes. Client counseling courses may also cover ethical considerations in working with clients, such as confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and informed consent.
- Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which parties agree to resolve their disputes outside of court through a neutral third party, called an arbitrator. Arbitration courses in law school focus on the principles and practices of arbitration, including the law and ethics surrounding arbitration, the process and procedures involved in arbitration, and the role of the arbitrator.
In arbitration courses, students learn the legal framework that governs arbitration, such as the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and state arbitration laws. They also learn the ethical considerations involved in serving as an arbitrator, such as avoiding conflicts of interest, maintaining impartiality, and ensuring procedural fairness.
Students are also taught the procedures involved in arbitration, including the selection of arbitrators, the submission of evidence, the presentation of arguments, and the issuance of awards. They may also learn about specialized types of arbitration, such as labor arbitration or international arbitration.