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UC Law Showcases Real Life Through Practice Ones

Who says the ambiance at chain restaurants doesn’t elicit genius? Last year, while traveling for the regional negotiation competition, Professor Marjorie Aaron and students Eric Vang and Tre Ronne stopped for a bite to eat and had more on their minds than the blue plate special. “We were talking about the Center for Practice and the idea just emerged from the two of them that students ought to be able to ‘add on’ an experience in conjunction with class,” explained Aaron. “It hit me,” she continued. The idea for a Practice One course—an interactive program to showcase a “day in the life” of lawyers—was born.

            “When the concept was born” said Aaron, “I was concentrating on other things.” Through her work on CLE programs and with the Center for Practice, Aaron had her plate full. As the year progressed, though, Aaron realized that many of her goals for introducing new Capstone course options into the curriculum would be very labor intensive. Luckily, her position on the Economic Policy and Curriculum committee at UC Law allowed her a forum to float her idea for a Practice One class. “Almost immediately I had professors saying ‘I’ll do that!’” Aaron said.

            One of those professors was Brad Mank who teaches Environmental Law. Aaron approached others and quickly found two additional participants: Professors Barbara Black and Timothy Armstrong who teach Corporations and Introduction to IP, respectively.

A Course Takes Shape

            The Academic Policy and Curriculum Committee and then the full faculty approved Aaron’s proposal for a structure that would be common to all Practice Ones.   They are designed as one credit hour courses, offered in conjunction with substantive law courses.  Practice Ones are intended to introduce students to legal practice in that area of substantive law, with a focus on the type of work newer lawyers are called upon to do.   The classroom hours start a few weeks after the beginning of the semester, so that students will have grounding in the substantive material.  Each Practice One includes oral and written exercises, based upon simulated client problems, enabling students to apply legal concepts to practice contexts. The adjunct faculty practitioner teaches practice strategies, then coaches and critiques students’ efforts. To encourage participation (and banish grade anxiety), any Practice One may be offered pass-fail. In fact, all Practice One faculty have adopted the pass-fail option this year.  “These are about learning how to practice – they are not about grade point average,” emphasizes Aaron.

            While initially targeted toward 2Ls, 3Ls are welcome as well, including those who may have taken the substantive course the previous year. Aaron notes that, “our initial focus was on creating Practice Ones for relatively large classes in order to provide the opportunity for a large percentage of the student population to get exposure. Ideally, in the future, a Practice Ones will be offered in conjunction with a wide variety of classes, as we build experience and identify top notch practitioners adept at teaching in this format.”

“We have sought out lawyers who are a bit younger,” Aaron continued.  She thought it was important that the practitioner adjuncts remember what it was like to begin in practice and the types of assignments a newer lawyer can expect.  For example, Aaron’s former Negotiation and Mediation students, Eric Robbins (’01) and Clayton Kuhnell (’01), both now IP lawyers at Ulmer & Berne LLP are team teaching the IP Practice One.  (Be sure to read their story below.) They met and exchanged teaching outlines and ideas with Professors Armstrong  and Aaron.  Attorney Ann Navarro, TITLE, met with Professors Mank and Aaron before preparing her course materials over the summer.  Adjunct Professor Barbara Wagner , TITLE, coordinated with Professor Black for the Corporations Practice One. “I sat in on the first IP Practice One and it sounded great to me! I have tried to keep my ear to the ground on student reaction over the semester,” said Aaron. “I am very pleased that students in all of our Practice Ones seem delighted with what they are learning.”

            “The nice thing about the concept is that it’s the perfect allocation of resources,” explained Aaron. “What do the practitioners know better than anyone else? How to practice, of course!” Aaron’s goal was to combat the fears most recent graduates might have of being approached by a partner on their first day and being asked to draft something. “I don’t want the students to think “uhhhh…uh oh…. how do I do that?… what is that?” I want them to say ‘sure’ and go about it,” she said. “This is just one more opportunity in law school to get yourself to wrestle with the transition from a doctrinal course to practicing what you know,” Aaron added.

Why Practice Ones

            Aaron’s drive for these skills-based courses was motivated by her work with the Center for Practice. “UC has moved toward clinics recently,” she explained. “But not everybody can take a clinic and funding them gets challenging. With the Practice One courses, students are shown how to go about the process of “lawyering.” These courses fill the space between a clinic and what one would do in a summer job. It also serves as an opportunity to get students to take some of the skills they have learned and apply them within the practice area,” she continued.

            Although the courses are not strictly monitored by Aaron, Adjunct Professors Kuhnell and Robbins submitted ideas for Aaron to look over. As a practicing corporate lawyer for over 20 years, Corporations Practice One Professor Wagner explained the method behind her teaching preparations. “The main way I prepared for teaching this class was to think about some of the things I had to learn early on that I didn't learn in law school and also think about some of the issues that are really every day issues for any corporate lawyer.” Class time has been spent talking about real-life corporate issues from a current standpoint. “Although I don't consider myself an expert in corporate finance or the current market issues,” she admitted. “We have had several discussions of articles in newspapers on corporate issues tied to mistakes some corporations have made or issues they have had.”

            Professor Aaron’s enthusiasm for the idea of the Practice One courses most certainly stems from the classes she teaches in mediation, negotiation, and client counseling where students use role playing to hone skills. “All students should have these fundamentals,” she explained. “Students who have taken Practice Ones, plus Client Counseling or the other intensive lawyering courses, will be prepared for  work in clinics and third year capstone class experiences, and of course, for excellence in legal practice.”