Law schools today realize that legal education is about more than teaching case law and statutes—it’s also about investing in students to help them become well-adjusted, capable, and confident professionals. From resiliency and time management to oral advocacy and mentorship, law schools are designing programs that foster the development of a multitude of skills that prepare students for their future legal (or non-legal) positions.
Bloomberg Law’s inaugural Law School Innovation Program recognizes those law schools that are leading the way in educational innovations. In addition to the finalists who received the highest overall scores, we are spotlighting those innovative programs that are advancing legal education in six categories: business, experience, justice, pedagogy, student development, and technology.
As law students report worsened well-being and increased mental health concerns in law school, the importance of student development-specific innovations cannot be understated.
The following law schools, listed in alphabetical order, have programs that are pioneering student development in ways that improve the law school experience and foster career readiness.
Notably, these schools use qualitative and quantitative data to track their programs’ impact on students. Thus, not only are these law schools trying to improve the law student experience—they’re making sure they are aiding student development.
Cleveland State University College of Law
The Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Certificate program and the interdisciplinary Master of Legal Studies in Cybersecurity and Data Privacy program offered by Cleveland State University College of Law provide students the chance to acquire mastery of the technical aspects of cybersecurity and to work together with students from other disciplines on real-life situations where the legal and technical issues intersect.
And the results prove that the programs are succeeding. Multiple graduates work in both traditional and non-traditional roles in the privacy and data security industries. They’re employed by law firms; national, state, and local government; Fortune 100 companies; and tech startups.
“Students are the heart of our law school,” said Brian Ray, the director of the Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection. “Our faculty and staff are constantly working to develop new programs and identify outside opportunities for our students to develop skills and engage in experiences to prepare them for existing and new careers in law and law-related fields,” Ray said.
Elon University School of Law
Elon University School of Law’s redesigned experiential curriculum graduates students in less time than traditional law school programs, with less student loan debt at graduation, and with extensive practical training and stronger connections to the profession. The curriculum features highly personalized professional development for its law students which begins with an introductory course—Lawyering, Leadership, and Professionalism—and continues with an integrated sequence of courses and experiential learning opportunities that emphasize legal writing, oral advocacy, and broader professional competencies not traditionally taught in law schools.
Elon Law is the first—and currently only—law school that fosters student development through course-connected residencies in the practice of law. The impact of this innovative approach is shown through improved admissions, bar passage, and career placement rates since the adoption of the curriculum.
“These data points demonstrate a strong demand for law schools that place student needs and development at the center of their approach to educating future attorneys, and we’re proud of the strides we have made together as a community in our noble mission,” said Interim Dean Alan Woodlief.
Fordham University School of Law
The Peer Mentoring and Leadership Program at Fordham University School of Law is a voluntary mentoring program where third-year students mentor second-years. The premise of the program is simple: Law students can support each other and achieve professional and personal growth if law schools provide institutional support. The program supports second-year students during a time when most really need it due to mounting academic and career pressures; fosters cross-cultural understanding; builds friendships and professional networks; and teaches leadership skills. For example, Fordham has designed a professional identity formation course that equips third-year mentors with the skills and the confidence they need to provide meaningful support to the second-year students they mentor. The program also contributes to the law school’s DEI efforts via collaboration with Fordham’s student affinity groups.
Since its launch five years ago, hundreds of students have chosen to participate. In the first year, 35 mentors and 30 mentees participated. This past semester, there were 52 mentors and 121 mentees. Feedback from these participants has been extremely positive.
“Developing student integrity, resilience, and judgment is the single most important function of law schools,” said Professor Linda Sugin, who founded the Peer Mentoring and Leadership Program. “All the mentoring and leadership skills developed in the program are essential for lawyers—regardless of the type of work they do,” Sugin said."All lawyers need to develop self-awareness, work cross-culturally, handle challenges and setbacks with resilience and equanimity, and care for their own well-being.”
Syracuse University College of Law
Syracuse University College of Law’s National Trial League (NTL), organizes inter-law school trial competitions using fact patterns that practicing lawyers see on a regular basis such as DUIs, robberies, breach of contract, and negligence. Twelve law schools in nine states participated this year, and it’s the first law school trial competition to take place in a season-long format. The league—which is mainly virtual— also fosters law student development by harnessing emerging technologies such as Zoom.
Syracuse collects feedback at the end of each NTL season (there have been two seasons so far) from students, coaches, deans, and advocacy directors, and this qualitative data suggest that the students grew as advocates over the course of the five-month season.
“The National Trial League provides many chances to argue cases while using cases that a young lawyer will more likely encounter early in their career, rather than the traditional moot court model that uses complex, rare problems that you would not encounter unless you are a more senior lawyer, if ever,” said Professor of Law and Director Advocacy Programs at Syracuse University College of Law, Todd Berger. “The [NTL] format helps prepare students for an increasingly virtual future in which they must learn to overcome the challenges of persuasion compounded by distance and electronic transmission,” Berger said.
The University of Tennessee College of Law
The Institute for Professional Leadership (IPL) at The University of Tennessee College of Law provides students with a curated curriculum that’s catered to the training of lawyer leaders. IPL courses include Lawyering and Professionalism, Lawyers as Leaders, Thriving as a Lawyer, and the Role of the General Counsel. These offerings—together with pro bono, public service, and career advancement activities and events hosted through the IPL—allow students to develop as leaders in the legal profession, government, nonprofit and for-profit organizations (including educational institutions), and the community as a whole.
The University of Tennessee College of Law has used information from surveys of former IPL students to modify the program to better meet student and practitioner needs. In a 2020 survey of over 100 former IPL students, 77% of respondents who were students in the IPL’s flagship “Lawyers as Leaders” course agreed that the course has proven valuable to their professional development and careers (including alternative legal careers).
“To survive and thrive inside and outside the legal profession, lawyers need to understand who they are and where they may want to go,” said Rick Rose Distinguished Professor of Law and Interim Director of the Institute for Professional Leadership Joan MacLeod Heminway. "Leadership education in the law school setting fills a gap in the traditional program of legal education,” said Heminway. “Robust leadership education in law schools focuses students on intentional introspection and the identification and development of skills, values, professional identity, and career paths through interdisciplinary programming beyond a strictly legal context,” she said.
University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
The Law Firm Program (LFP) at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law is a series of courses that provide students with simulated experiential learning. The LFP courses require students to work with case files or documents like those found in various areas of legal practice ranging from family law to business law. Students work under the direction of practicing attorneys, and complete the types of assignments junior attorneys would be expected to do at law firms, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate legal departments. These students get practical experience, and also develop soft skills like time management and communicating with partners.
“The Law Firm Program gives students a simulated space to develop lawyering skills and learn from mistakes before those mistakes impact real clients or their professional reputations,” said Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Law at Detroit Mercy Law Karen McDonald Henning. “Many students say their [LFP] course is one of their most valuable law school experiences,” Henning said.
University of Oklahoma College of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law implemented in 2014 the Digital Initiative, which is a comprehensive, technology-forward program to prepare law students for the next generation of legal practice. OU Law helps their students to develop through “four pillars” of the Digital Initiative: (1) a free iPad for all law students; (2) a comprehensive, extra-curricular, and mandatory technology training curriculum for law students during each year of their studies; (3) modernizing OU Law’s facilities; and (4) investing in and researching emerging technologies that may affect legal practice, including virtual reality, drones, and artificial intelligence.
OU Law measures the success of its Digital Initiative through tracking student participation in extra-curricular training, iPad usage, an annual satisfaction survey, a certification program, alumni surveys, and other general data points used by other institutions of higher learning.
“Student development in technology competency and innovation mindsets are essential for the modern practice of law,” Interim Director of the Law Library and Director of Technology Innovation at OW Law Kenton Brice explained. “All of this is preparing our students to engage with technology in the context of their practices, with the hope that these generations will be agents of advancement and change at all levels of the legal ecosystem,” Brice said.
Washburn University School of Law
The Third Year Anywhere (TYA) program at Washburn University School of Law allows students to complete their final year of law school anywhere in the country, taking classes remotely and externing in the geographic area where they plan to practice after graduation. The TYA program gives students the opportunity to develop skills and to transition to practice as an apprentice under the direct supervision of a lawyer, get a head-start learning the professional landscape of the jurisdiction and area of law in which they will practice, develop networks within those communities, and potentially gain advantages in preparing for the bar exam in that jurisdiction. It also has the possibility of reducing law student debt, as students can earn income in some placements and potentially live with families during their placements.
“The TYA program is not only hugely beneficial for the students who participate in it, by better preparing them for practice and giving them a head-start in the transition to practice in the jurisdiction of their choice, but it is an apprenticeship model that could benefit the legal profession more broadly,” said Professor Craig Martin. "[S]tudents and employers have both lauded the experience,” said Martin, who’s also co-director of the International and Comparative Law Center at Washburn.
In previous articles in this series: Francis Boustany’s Jan. 17 article announced the Law School Innovation Program‘s top 10 overall innovations, his Jan. 25 article provided details on each of the overall finalists and Abigail Gampher’s Feb. 6 article highlighted the top-scoring applicants for justice and innovation.
Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content in our Law School Innovation Program page.
If you’re reading this on the Bloomberg Terminal, please run BLAW OUT <GO> in order to access the hyperlinked content, or click here to view the web version of this article.
To contact the reporter on this story: