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First Year Practical Lawyering

Exhibiting grace under pressure, thinking on one’s feet, and mastering the art of persuasion are skills that come with being a successful lawyer. Some may say those skills are learned on the job after much trial and error, but at Western New England University, innovative additions to the curriculum are giving our students opportunities to learn professional skills long before graduation.

Introduction to Law Course

All members of the 1L entering class begin the year with the Introduction to Law course. Taught by Teaching Excellence Award winner Julie Steiner, this four-day intensive class familiarizes students with legal pedagogy, offers strategies for learning the law, introduces important legal concepts, and provides a transition to the 1L classroom, providing an "intellectual toolbox" for success in law school.

The course reflects our commitment to provide a holistic, student-centered experience to our entering first-year class. The course helps smooth what might otherwise be an abrupt and potentially anxiety-provoking transition to law school. Introduction to Law involves a combination of teaching techniques: lecture, Socratic method, PowerPoints, quizzes using interactive “clicker” technology, and small group exercises. Course topics include an overview about what to expect in law school, how to prepare for class and exams, an introduction to the legal system, techniques of legal analysis, and doctrines like stare decisis, states of mind, burdens of proof, and standards of review.


Introduction to the Legal Profession Course

In the spring, first-year students get to see how lessons learned in their courses are used in a real-world setting through the Introduction to the Legal Profession course. In this innovative week-long simulation, student “law firms” handle a simulated legal matter, with practicing lawyers, mostly alumni, providing guidance as “senior partners.”

Developed and taught by Dean Gouvin, the course includes two sessions per day over four days. The students spend the first session with Dean Gouvin talking about big ideas like ethics, negotiation, and counseling, and the second session working in law firms of six to eight students headed by two members of the bar.

The simulation involves a business relationship that has hit a bump in the road. Both sides have legitimate issues and need legal assistance. The class is split in half so each half represents one side of the deal. The firms intake the client, develop a strategy for dealing with the matter, negotiate a resolution, and write a letter counseling the client on how to proceed. All of this is done under the supervision of seasoned practicing lawyers who are the law firms’ senior partners.

Dean Gouvin’s direction to the senior partners is to handle the simulated file as if it were a new matter that has just come in to their office. The senior partners lead the students through the thought process: are we competent to take the matter? Do we want to take the matter? Who is the client? Do we have a conflict? Can we earn a fee? How will we proceed?”

Putting It All Into Practice

In addition, Western New England University School of Law offers students a wide variety of options to gain firsthand experience working with clients, writing legal documents, conducting research, and litigating cases. Through the nine Law Clinics and over 100 Judicial and Public Interest Externship placements offered by the School, students gain the opportunity to put into practice all of these skills and more. In addition, the School of Law offers many in-house simulation courses that help students learn by engaging in simulations of the kind of real-world lawyering that normally takes place outside of the classroom.