March 14, 2014
Experimenting with the Experiential
Posted by Joseph Yockey

It’s rare these days for me to talk to colleagues or peers without the conversation quickly turning to legal education reform. In fact, the topic is so prevalent in the law school ecosystem that I hesitate to even bring it up out of fear of oversaturation.

So, rather than repeat arguments for and against adding things like “experiential” learning programs to the standard law school curriculum, I’ll simply share something new that we are doing at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Beginning in the fall, Iowa will offer third-year students the option to take a "Legal Practice Capstone Course." This course is meant to prepare students for professional settings in which new attorneys are expected to manage assignments from several different supervisors at once and must execute projects even in areas that they've never formally studied.

Four faculty members will play the roles of supervising attorneys. Fifteen students will then be expected to complete a variety of legal projects over the course of the semester, covering an array of doctrinal areas. Students might work on a motion to suppress one day, and an LLC operating agreement the next. The projects might be spaced out, or they could come in bunches. Just as junior attorneys in large and mid-sized law firms often discover day-to-day who their next supervisors and what their next projects will be, the identities of the participating faculty members and the nature of the assigned projects will be revealed when the course begins (I’m hoping that we’ll materialize ghost-like à la Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it might not be in the cards - yet).

The course is obviously not a replacement for immersive clinical programs, externships, or paid summer jobs. It’s impossible to recreate every aspect of large firm practice in the seminar format. However, as a supplement to other opportunities, our expectation is that this program will provide students with a powerful new kind of educational experience. I’m one of a handful of faculty members piloting the first go-around. Any advice on potential corporate projects? 

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