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Experiential Learning

Whittier Law School offers Ground-Breaking New Curriculum

Whittier Law School has just approved an innovative new curriculum called “Experience the Law” in which students develop practical skills integrated with legal knowledge starting from the first day of law school. In fact, 29 units — more than half of the curriculum’s 56 required units — will integrate experiential learning. Students also may take additional experiential courses to satisfy the 89 units required for graduation. A pilot version of the program will begin in 2013-2014, with full implementation in fall 2014.

First-Year Students Gain Practical Skills
“Whittier Law School’s program is unique,” says Pritikin. “While other schools offer experiential learning in the second or third year, we begin their first year of law school. In addition, we integrate experiential learning into the classroom, so students learn concepts and then immediately put them into practice. While many schools rely on clinics or externships for experiential learning, we provide a more comprehensive approach.”

The new Kiesel Advocacy Center, Whittier Law School’s recently finished state-of-the-art courtroom, will play a key role in the practical curriculum. Students will gain experience there by training as advocates, observing public trials, and competing in trial and moot court competitions.

“Our top priority is to graduate students who are fully prepared with the knowledge, skills and professionalism needed to successfully practice law,” says Penelope Bryan, Dean of Whittier Law School. “Our ‘Experience the Law’ curriculum gives our students three full years of experience that will differentiate them in the profession.”

In addition to our new curriculum, we offer these opportunities for hands-on experience:

  • Live-Client Clinics – Students represent clients in one of three on-campus legal clinics – Children’s Rights, Domestic Violence, and Special Education. Students’ representation of actual clients and their involvement in cutting edge legal policy issues provides a context for classroom pedagogy and enables students to provide both pro bono representation to indigent clients and to begin to develop a professional and ethical identity. In addition to learning practical lawyering skills such as interviewing, counseling, negotiation, fact investigation, legal drafting and oral advocacy, students work closely with clinical faculty who help students reflect on and grow from their experiences as legal advocates. Many students find their clinic involvement one of the most formative, memorable, and important law school experiences.
  • Public and Private Externships – Whittier Law School offers practical training through externship placements with trial and appellate courts, governmental agencies, law firms, corporate legal departments and non-profit legal services organizations. Working under the supervision of experienced attorneys or bench officers, students are able to gain valuable insights into the operation of legal institutions while dealing with actual client matters. They also are able to develop a better understanding of the legal and socioeconomic problems common in the practice of law.
  • Institute of Trial and Appellate Practice – The Institute for Trial and Appellate Practice supports numerous courses in trial and appellate advocacy and interfaces with several student organizations. It also includes the Trial Advocacy Honors Board (TAHB) and the Moot Court Honors Board (MCHB). The Trial Court Program allows students to learn the art and strategy of trial and oral advocacy, from how to enter exhibits or examine expert witnesses to the subtleties of the effect of body language and attitude upon a jury. Those that perform well in internal competitions may advance to full membership and become eligible to compete in external national competitions. The Moot Court Program allows students to participate in a number of national competitions in which they submit appellate briefs and make oral arguments before a court.
  • Specialized Skills Courses – Students can experience the practice of law in a wide array of classes, including Appellate Advocacy, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Child Custody Law, Civil, Criminal, and Juvenile Trial Advocacy, Mediation, Criminal Motions Practice, International Business Negotiations, Arbitration, Environmental Enforcement, Patent Drafting and many more.
  • Lawyering Skills Curriculum – The Lawyering Skills curriculum is one of the most extensive in the nation. Students receive four semesters of training in how to draft essential legal documents including client letters, briefs, contracts, and settlement agreements. During the first year, the legal writing classes are coupled with first year substantive law classes in order for students to master the content in a particular course while simultaneously working to master the essential skills of legal writing and thinking like a lawyer. This curriculum also offers an opportunity to obtain an honors certificate in legal writing.
  • Centers and Student Groups – A newly founded student group – currently called Lawyering Procedures – provides opportunities for students to learn and practice a variety of legal skills such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration and interviewing and counseling. Each of our Centers also offer competition opportunities. The Center for Intellectual Property provides the National Entertainment Law competition, the Giles Rich Patent Law competition and the Lefkowitz Trademark competition. The Center for Children’s Rights hosts the only moot court competition devoted to children’s issue and is called the National Juvenile Law Competition. Finally, the Center of International & Comparative Law works with students to compete in the Jessup International Moot Court Competition.

Experiential learning allows students to act as apprentices within the protective and supportive environment of the law school. Learning by seeing, and then doing, builds skills, confidence and a deeper understanding of the integration of law, theory, and practice.