Faculty Post: Real Lawyering from Day One — How Does the Legal Skills in Social Context (LSSC) Social Justice Jump Start Your Professional Development?

by Susan Maze-Rothstein, Senior Academic Specialist

To compete in today’s rapidly evolving legal profession, law students (i.e. you) need to know how, more than ever before, to get practice-ready and fast.  The profession can no longer accommodate graduates who need the first five years of practice to really learn how to be a lawyer.  So, the law school business model of lecture courses is undergoing change.

“What,” you might ask, “does this have to do with a course that offers both basic legal research and writing training and a real life social justice project that can only be accomplished in teams that we call “law offices?”

Answer  . . . everything.

Upon arrival you will need to get basic skills under your belt, but you will also need to immediately start to see how these skills can be used in complicated societal settings.  Enter LSSC.

Legal Skills in Social Context (LSSC) is the law school’s first year signature course and the only one of its kind in law schools nationally. In it you will learn fundamental lawyering skills and apply them to address a complex legal/societal problem. LSSC includes two complementary components: a Legal Research and Writing (LRW) component, taught by four full time faculty and upper level students acting as Teaching Assistants, and a Social Justice (SJ) component, taught by upper level students known as Lawyering Fellows under the supervision of three full time faculty members with the support of fourteen advising attorneys. The library staff supports the training in both components of the program.

The entire incoming class will be divided into fourteen “law office” teams of approximately 13-15 students each.  You will have LRW classes and SJ classes each week.  While learning basic skills in research, writing and advocacy exercises in your LRW classes, you will immediately begin to serve your first client.  Your client will be either a non-governmental organization or a governmental organization that has proposed a real life social justice project.   To get a more concrete sense of what this means, here are the clients served and projects completed by our first year class this past year.

LSSC CLIENT

LSSC SJ PROJECT DESCRIPTION

MFY Legal Services, Inc. Tenants with Diminished Capacity
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Supervised Injection: the Future of Harm Reduction
Project for Energy Accountability Imposing a Fee on Nuclear Waste Storage: A Journey around Preemption
Drug Policy Alliance Ending an Epidemic: Responding to Opioid Overdose
Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc. Confronting Stalking in the Digital Age
CPRDC – Wuhan University School of Law Disability and Employment: A Global Perspective
Legal Aid of Arkansas Renters Beware: Hostile Landlord-Tenant Law in Arkansas
SHIFT A Global Shift: Corporate Lawyers & Human Rights
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana Treating Kids as Kids: Reforming Juvenile Transfer
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Immigration: Know Your Rights, Know Your Status
Disability Policy Consortium, Inc. Bringing Accessible Taxi Cabs to Massachusetts
Brazilian Immigrant Center A Guide to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
Massachusetts Communities Action Network Unconstitutional Education: Failing our Students
Access to Justice Commission Catering Technology to Self-Represented Litigants

These are tough topics for us societally and require a sophisticated lawyerly response.  Our first year class, with expert support, responded to each one of these issues often so impressively that our clients could not believe it was the work of first year students.  Similarly, when you add your social justice project to your resume and are able to speak intelligently in your interviews about what you and your law office team accomplished, our co-op employers are always intrigued.  You immediately have legal experience that your counterparts from other law schools cannot parallel.

So, you might ask further, “how does LSSC accomplish all this through the first year class?”

Answer . . . we get all this done through experiential learning and a set of goals that work.

Here are our goals, which we know, after seventeen years and over three hundred social justice projects, work to support you reaching this advanced outcome in your first year of study

 LSSC SJ Primary Goals:

 1. Placing/keeping the law in its social context through detailed engagement with a single complex legal problem that can expose students to how legal issues are embedded in a rich array of social institutions and relationships.  (See also Goals 4 & 5 below for some specific dimensions of this endeavor.)

2. Introducing students to facets of the lawyer’s representational role and the dynamics of lawyering as a service to a client.

3. Providing the opportunity to develop and practice emerging legal skills – problem definition, issue identification, research (both legal and factual), higher order reasoning, analysis, written and oral presentation – in a collaborative experiential setting.

LSSC SJ Supporting Goals:

 4. Appreciating law’s social impacts, and law’s reflection of social power dynamics, with particular attention to the impacts on marginalized populations.

5. Exploring the strengths and weaknesses of law as an instrument of social change.

6. Developing and reflecting on the skills needed to manage a complex project as part of a diverse team.

We feel these are core skills necessary to practice 21st century law.  Looking forward to your joining us to do this work and jump start your lawyering skill development starting this fall!

 

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