UConn Law Adopts 'Hands-On' Learning Requirement

Willajeanne McLean '86 in Connecticut Law Tribune, November 30, 2012

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The University of Connecticut School of Law has answered the call to provide more real-world experience for its students. Starting with the class that begins next fall, all students will be required to complete at least one supervised "live-lawyering experience" before they can receive a J.D.

In announcing the new program, Willajeanne F. McLean, the interim dean at the law school, said that fewer than 20 U.S. law schools have a similar requirement. "These programs offer an essential supplement to classroom-based learning," McLean said. "By adopting this requirement, we are signaling our continuing commitment to preparing our students to practice law, and to do so competently and ethically."

The requirement builds on the law school's already active clinical programs, which include an Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, and a Mediation and Human Rights Clinic. Further, the school has developed programs that combine clinical work with externships at state agencies, such as the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The need for practice-based legal education has been at the forefront of discussions about the future of legal training at law schools and law firms alike. During the fall hiring season, many large Connecticut firms have stressed the need to find associates who have practical experience handling casework, beyond what can be learned in the classroom. Managing partners say that economic demands from clients have increased the need for new lawyers to be able to join a firm and hit the ground running.

Efforts to improve employment statistics of law school graduates was something former UConn Law School Dean Jeremy Paul talked about when he announced he was leaving back in July. To improve the hiring prospects for new lawyers, he said there was a need for law schools to increase their focus on providing "hands-on training."

The law school where Paul is now dean, Northeastern University in Boston, has a program which requires all students to complete four academic terms of full-time legal employment. Paul said expanding on that program was one of the most exciting aspects of his new position.

UConn's new program will allow students to fulfill the requirement in many ways. They will be able to enroll in one of the school's 15 clinical programs, or participate in externship clinics where they would work with nonprofits, state agencies, judges and legislators.

Paul Chill, a UConn law professor who serves on a faculty committee that voted for the requirement, said the program will allow graduates to better serve their communities and clients.

"When students are placed in settings where their decisions and actions have real consequences for people and institutions, there are enormous educational benefits," he said.