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

by Susan Maze-Rothstein, Teaching Professor

A warm welcome to our incoming Class of 2018! Read on to learn a little more about what’s in store for your 1L year…

To compete in today’s rapidly evolving legal profession, law students need to know, more than ever before, how to get practice-ready and fast. The profession can no longer accommodate graduates who need their first five years of practice to really learn how to be a lawyer. In coming to NUSL, you have picked perhaps the most interesting time to go to law school because the law school business model of lecture courses is changing as it must. You are entering the ground floor of the future of lawyering. Welcome!

“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’?”

The answer . . . everything.

Upon arrival you roll up your sleeves and dig in to get basic skills under your belt. At the same time, you will want to immediately start to see how these skills can be used in complicated societal settings – i.e. real lawyering. Enter LSSC.

Legal Skills in Social Context (LSSC) is Northeastern’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, and a Social Justice (SJ) component, taught by five full time professors and upper level student leaders known as Lawyering Fellows/Teaching Assistants, supported by an advising attorney for each project. The library staff also supports the training across the program.

As a member of our incoming class, you and your new colleagues will be enrolled in one of ten student “law office” teams of approximately 10 to 14 students each. While learning basic skills in research, writing and advocacy exercises in the LRW classes, you will immediately begin to serve your first client. No, not a single person, rather your first 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:

Citizen Schools Pathway to Progress: Extended Learning Time Funding
Drug Policy Alliance Medically Assisted Treatment: Crucial for US Prisons
Greater Boston Legal Services Public Guardianship: Best Practices Analysis for MA
Healing Abuse Working for Change Reclaiming Custody: Protecting Survivors of Abuse
Mass Communities Action Network The Power to Live: Aspiring to a Living Wage in MA
Migrant Farmworker Justice Project Seafood Processing: The Argument to Expand AWPA
Public Health Advocacy Institute E-Cigs: Behind the Smokescreen
Rich Coast Project Property in Paradise: Securing Talamancan Land Rights
Southern Legal Counsel, Inc. Every Child Left Behind: School Choice in the US
TOR Project, Inc. Technology on Trial – Privacy in the Digital Age
Vermont Legal Aid Addressing Absenteeism in Vermont Schools

Each of these projects involved tough topics for us societally and required a sophisticated lawyerly response. Our first year class, with expert support, responded to each of these issues, often so impressively that our clients could not believe it was the work of first year law students. Similarly, when our students add their social justice project to their resumes and are able to speak intelligently in co-op interviews about what they and their law office team accomplished, our co-op employers are always intrigued and interested. Employers want, and through LSSC we provide, students with real legal experience – the kind of real lawyering work that their first year counterparts from other law schools cannot parallel.

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

The answer . . . we get all this done through experiential learning requiring the development of core lawyering skills. Your acquisition of these skills makes real lawyering in your first year remarkably possible.

Here are our objectives for your LSSC learning, which we know, after eighteen years and over three hundred social justice projects, work to support you to represent your first client at a sophisticated level in your first year of law study. You will learn:

I.   What Lawyers Do: Roles/Ethics/Professionalism
II.  How Lawyers Work Together: Team Lawyering Skills
III. How Lawyers Think: Legal Analysis and Reasoning
IV. How Lawyers Situate Their Work: Understanding Law in its Social Context
V.  How Lawyers Gather Information: Factual and Legal
VI. How Lawyers Communicate: Writing and Speaking

We feel that these are core skills necessary to practice 21st century law. And, we look forward to welcoming our incoming class to campus at the end of the summer!

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