Legal Skills in Social Context: The First Semester

By Professor Hemanth Gundavaram

We treat our first-year students as professionals and give them legal experience from day one through the law school’s unique, yearlong Legal Skills in Social Context (LSSC) program. With two months on the books, our students are currently doing the first outside legal work of their young careers. Students are working with a variety of social justice or community-based organizational partners on problems affecting marginalized communities. Read on to see how the first semester has progressed.

The students started the semester with a primer from an outside expert on the area of law that they would be working in. It was an exciting opportunity for the students to meet a practitioner in the field and interview this attorney. The areas of law ranged from immigration to housing, death penalty to prison law and many others. The students also attended two research training sessions, from our experienced law librarians, to gain further information on the particular field. Rather than just knowing what lawyers do, this gave the students a chance to start doing what lawyers do. At this point the students were ready to meet with their organizational partner and learn about the organization, the marginalized community, and their social justice project.

With the foundational work out of the way, the students gathered into sub-groups to begin researching and writing memos that would aid their own understanding, as well as that of their organizational partners. The students then presented their research findings to their team members, their student leader, and their professor.

From this point on, the students, armed with their memos, will meet with another expert in the field to interview them on their current findings and strategize next steps in their project. Rather than being told what to do next, the students decide for themselves what they should do to move their project forward. Later in the semester, the students will meet with their organizational partners again to provide an update on their work and then they will finalize their Fall semester work product.

Once the students take their final examinations in mid-December, and enjoy a much-needed holiday break, they will get right back into the work at the start of the Spring semester with our “immersion week!”  More on that to follow…

 

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