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Is W&L Already Providing the 3L Experience of the Future? - (

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  • Is W&L Already Providing the 3L Experience of the Future? - (

    Whither the 3L year? Ten years hence are we all going to look back and wonder why it used to look so much like the 1L year? Are we going to marvel at the fact that it ever existed at all?

    An article in the Washington Post Friday perhaps provides a bit of evidence that the answer — to the first question at least — is yes.

    While many schools have changed tweaked formula for the 2L and 3L years of law school, Washington & Lee has pushed the envelope further. Writes the Post:
    Most members of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2010 have abandoned the lecture hall to spend their final year of law school learning how law is practiced — including the mundanities of dressing for court and the intricacies of taking depositions and writing briefs on deadline.

    Students are working court cases from complaint to verdict, matching wits with opposing counsel, currying favor with judges and managing difficult clients, real and simulated.

    Fair enough. Of course, law schools have been offering practical clinics for decades. But few, if any, have gone the way of Washington & Lee and decided to completely overhaul the 3L year, an experiment that began this fall.

    According to the Post, faculty members spent six years preparing the new program. Current third-year students had the right to opt out, and 49 did. But going forward, only the new curriculum will be offered.

    Part of the rationale motivating the change was to help the school distinguish itself — and perhaps climb a few notches up the U.S. News & World Report ranking. The school has fallen from 22nd to 30th in the past several years. The school received what was viewed by some as a blow this week when the dean and brainchild of the new 3L curriculum, Rodney Smolla, announced he would leave the school to become the new president at Furman University.

    Will the move work? Will W&L suddenly become a hot alternative to those who don’t get into the so-called T14 schools?

    Frankly, we have no idea. But we can’t help but applaud the move. The 3L year, in its current incarnation at so many institutions is, in our opinion, a flat-out waste of time. Anything that helps prepare law students for what “real life practice” is all about — even if it bears only scant resemblance to real life BigLaw practice — is a good thing. Not only will students leave school feeling better prepared for the workplace, but they’ll also likely lead to a better understanding of what lawyers really do. And that, when learned in an environment meant to foster learning and confidence building, may actually stem that brutal sense of disillusionment so many young lawyers feel in about month 8 of their first years as associates.

    LBers, any thoughts?

  • #2
    Re: Is W&L Already Providing the 3L Experience of the Future?

    It's a little risky to separate from the herd too much in legal education.
    Lawyers are a very conservative group.

    If employers (i.e. hiring partners) like it, then move ahead full steam, otherwise be very cautious.


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