Curricular Innovation at Washington University Law

Washington University Law has a longstanding tradition of excellence in teaching and scholarship, while encouraging innovation within the context of best practices. In keeping with its mission to produce outstanding, motivated, ethical attorneys, the law school combines an atmosphere of intellectual excitement with professional development that includes cutting edge practices, programs, and class offerings.

First-Year Program Innovation Highlights

  • An emphasis on Professionalism beginning with Orientation, which features mini courses on legal topics, group discussions and panels on professionalism and ethics, community service projects, and a formal matriculation ceremony. Professional planning and preparation also are built into the curriculum from the first semester onward. Numerous career services programs transform student professional training into career placement opportunities through job fairs, on and off campus interviews, internships, career panels and programs, and one-on-one counseling. The “Total Professional Experience” provides a firm foundation for the entire law school experience and helps prepare students for a culture of success throughout their career.
  • Half of all first-year classes taught in Small Sections, which foster a supportive and intellectually stimulating atmosphere, while allowing students and professors to develop close working relationships. With around 45 students per section, these classes are among the smallest of the nation’s leading law schools. This small section approach helps respond to the challenges of effectively delivering core material to first-year students.
  • A year-long Legal Practice Program in which six full-time faculty teach essential skills for practicing law. Simulated lawsuits are used to teach first-year law students to approach and solve problems as lawyers do, including how to conduct legal research and to write clear, concise, and analytical trial briefs and office memoranda. The course also emphasizes skills training in legal advocacy, including negotiation and client counseling. The program is designed to prepare students for the demanding professional standards of current law practice. First-year students also take a companion, 1-credit, intensive Legal Research Methodologies course taught by professional librarians on all aspects of the research process.
  • Initiatives demonstrating the law school’s longstanding commitment to Public Service. Offerings include the Public Service Project that connects students with volunteer opportunities throughout the region from Orientation onward. A variety of scholarships, stipends, and loan forgiveness programs available to various levels of students underscore the law school’s commitment in this area. Clinics also give upper-level students direct experience in working with underserved and underrepresented clients. The program serves as a pipeline to preparing lawyers who will contribute to society through service to the legal profession and community.

Upper-Class Program Innovation Highlights

  • Clinical/Experiential Learning Guarantee – Students are guaranteed a clinical training or intense experiential learning course through the Clinical Education Program. Students can select from one of 10 clinical education experiences, which make up a program that is recognized as among the best in the country. The Congressional & Administrative Law Program, for example, is one of the oldest legal internship programs in Washington, D.C. Third-year law students work under the direction of attorneys in a variety of government offices during the spring semester. Examples include the House and Senate Judiciary Committee, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, the Corporate Finance Section of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Patent and Trademark Office. These students also take an accompanying ethics in government course. Among the more recent clinics, the Appellate Clinic allows students to represent pro se litigants in cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit or an amicus in a case before the Supreme Court. Other clinical experiences focus on civil justice, criminal, intellectual property, environmental, governmental, and judicial matters. The school also offers many experiential and skills courses, such as Negotiation, Mediation, Arbitration, Litigation, and various policy and practice & procedure courses. The Clinical Education Program recognizes that acquiring professional skills in a real-world context is an essential component of legal education and the preparation for the practice of law.
  • Extensive Interdisciplinary Opportunities – Interdisciplinary learning flourishes in large part because the law school is part of world-class university. The curriculum builds on this strength with classes co-taught by faculty from other divisions, and law faculty have appointments in such areas as medicine, economics, engineering, philosophy, political science, African and African-American Studies, and history. The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies supports cutting-edge legal research and scholarship, including sponsoring annual programs and activities that focus on legal issues that require expertise from a variety of disciplines, such as the human genome, biodiversity, new corporate governance, and poverty. The Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic also is pioneering in bringing together students and professionals in the areas of law, engineering, medicine, and environmental studies. Additionally, the law school shares space with various social sciences in the new Seigle Hall, which also will help facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations among faculty and students. The emphasis on interdisciplinary opportunities responds to changes in the legal profession and in legal scholarship.
  • Expansive International Programs – The curriculum is rich in both courses that examine a particular foreign legal system and those with a more general multinational focus. The Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute promotes in-depth research and instruction in international and comparative law and supports a variety of conferences, lectures, and roundtables, including a new initiative to draft a multilateral treaty condemning crimes against humanity. Other highlights include the Transnational Law Program, Summer Institute for Global Justice, Dagen-Legomsky Hague Fellowship, Ambassador-in-Residence Program, Africa Public Interest Law & Dispute Resolution Initiative, and numerous internships and study abroad opportunities. The law school’s faculty have specialized training in foreign legal systems, advise foreign governments, and conduct work around the globe. The school’s LL.M. Program in U.S. Law provides foreign attorneys with intensive exposure to U.S. law, legal theory, and legal education. The Summer Institute for International Law and Policy is designed as an introduction to this program. As the world shrinks, a foundation in international law is essential to helping students prepare for a world in which legal issues require global solutions.
  • Highly Successful National and International Competition Teams - Both first-year and upper-class students are encouraged to refine their lawyering techniques through various lawyer advocacy competitions. The school offers one of the most successful and comprehensive Trial and Advocacy Programs in the nation. Close to 70 percent of all students each year compete on teams focusing on trial, dispute resolution, negotiation, client counseling, international, intellectual property, and environmental issues. In their second and third year, students have the opportunity to compete nationally and internationally in numerous trial, advocacy, and moot court competitions. In 2007-08, for example, teams won two international competitions, placed nationally, clinched regional titles, and won numerous individual recognitions for their briefs and oral arguments. These competitions provide a forum for students to demonstrate their knowledge of the law and legal strategy.
  • Broad and Deep Curriculum – The school offers more than 25 academic specialties plus options to earn advanced or combined degrees. Among its dual degree programs are the J.D./M.S.W., J.D./M.B.A., J.D./M.A. of East Asian Studies, J.D./Master of Public Health. In addition to the program for foreign lawyers, LL.M. Programs are offered in tax and intellectual property; these courses also are available to J.D. students. A Free Trade Agreement makes it easier for students to take classes that help buttress their legal training in other divisions at Washington University. The upper-level curriculum is designed to meet the challenge of helping student hone their legal and professional skills.
  • Recognizing a growing need for mediation skills in the legal profession, the law school has a strong Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, and every student is required to take a class in Negotiation. Students also can receive mediation training and engage in community mediations through the Civil Rights, Community Justice and Mediation Clinic and the Intellectual Property & Nonprofit Organizations Legal Clinic.

Other New Vehicles

  • Transnational Law Program – This first-of-its-kind program offers a four-year, fully integrated, combined degree program for students in both the United States and Europe. The program was launched in fall 2008 in association with four prestigious European universities: Utrecht, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Trento (Italy), and Catholic University of Portugal. U.S. students will spend five semesters acquiring a solid foundation in U.S. law with an emphasis on international and transnational law from an American perspective. They will then undertake three semesters of study in Utrecht, acquiring an appreciation for European law and enhancing their understanding of international and transnational law.
  • Intersession – During one week in January, upper-level students have the opportunity to take 1-unit courses in a subject that enriches their curriculum, and first-year students are required to take Negotiation. The upper-level classes are taught by noted judges, practicing attorneys, professors, and other professionals from around the world and many disciplines. First-year students also participate in Career Services programming during the January Intersession.
  • An Intellectual Property and Technology Law Program that draws upon Washington University’s and the region’s prominence in information technology and biotechnology. The school supports a Center for Law, Innovation & Economic Growth, offers an Intellectual Property and Nonprofit Organizations Legal Clinic, and confers and LL.M. degree in Intellectual Property and Technology Law.
  • A Center for Empirical Research in the Law, which supports the application of sophisticated empirical methodology to legal studies research. Among its programs, workshops, and research projects are: The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, Supreme Court Forecasting Project, U.S. Supreme Court Judicial Database, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Litigation Analysis.