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Creating Better Lawyers at Tulane University Law School

Jan. 16, 2013
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Prospective law students have 200 different law schools to choose from, and as our Law School Comparison tool demonstrates, where you go to school can have a substantial impact on your ability to find a successful placement after graduation.  But employment statistics and salary data only tell a part of the story. Many schools, such as Tulane University Law School, are innovating their curriculum and offering their students unique experiences that are better preparing them for their future legal careers.

We recently featured Tulane University in our list of Most Innovative Law Schools, based on their practical career training. During the past year, Tulane has significantly broadened opportunities for service and skills training by expanding their externship program and launching a boldly innovative “boot camp.” I had the opportunity to speak with the Dean of Tulane Law School, David Meyer: “The goal of these programs is to provide students broader exposure to law practice and have a fast start.” Dean Meyer goes on to explain that Tulane’s efforts are motivated by two critical trends in legal education:

  1. Response to trend for law schools to do more skills training
  2. Challenges in the legal job market

Tulane’s programs were created to offer students a broad range of exposure to employers for networking and employment opportunities. Additionally, as Dean Meyer explains “we want to ensure our graduates are ready to practice law and provide value to their clients from Day 1.”

Exposure Through Externship

Through Tulane’s externship program, students are now able to work anywhere in the world in governmental or public-interest settings for academic credit. The program has expanded 5-fold in recent years, and now each summer between 100 and 200 students participate in field placements across the world. Students are matched to existing externships based on their interests, or can propose new placements that Tulane will then set up with the employer. Externships can range from protecting aboriginal land rights in the Australian Outback, to briefing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for the federal public defender in Pittsburgh. The externships not only supplement the classroom curriculum, they provide students with first-hand legal experience while making a positive difference in the community.

Trial By Fire at Legal Boot Camp 

This past week, students completed the second ever boot camp offered at Tulane. This program, launched in January 2012, offers a first-of-its-kind “boot camp” to simulate life as a young lawyer. A voluntary one-week course offered prior to the spring semester, students are put through the paces of life as a new associate in one of three alternative practice settings: civil litigation, criminal, or transactional practice. Enrolled students interact with a client at the beginning of the course and spend the rest of the week solving legal issues, including a last-minute crisis.“The program is exhausting but exhilarating to students,” says Dean Meyer, “It provides real-world experience for the demanding and challenging life after graduation.”

Stacey Folz, an Associate at Winston & Strawn and Class of 2012 graduate, participated in Tulane’s first boot camp. On the final day of the program, Stacey found herself in front of a real judge in a real courtroom, for the first time. “It was terrifying, but realistic. The judge actually commented that we were better prepared than some young lawyers he has seen.” Stacey observed several peers network and find jobs based on connections made during the boot camp. “It was intensive and challenging, but it is the best training I could have received for my career now.”

Although only in its second year, the boot camp is already expanding and becoming a staple of the Tulane experience. Open to second and third year students, credit is earned on a pass/fail basis with only a modest fee to cover direct expenses. This January’s session has been expanded to accommodate 200 students, but there is still a waiting list of 100. Dean Meyer is careful not to expand the program too fast:  “We have to balance the faculty-to-student ratio to protect the program, but increased alumni support through endowments will help us continue to build the program.”

The week-long boot camp is taught largely by trial and business lawyers, about 100 in total participating alongside faculty and student actors representing the client. Students interact and perform in front of these seasoned lawyers, providing potential employment opportunities in addition to skill building. Concludes Dean Meyer: “The program gives students the skills they’ll need to impress employers and deliver value to clients from the start of their careers.  It also gives them contact with a large number of alumni, all very successful lawyers from across the country and a variety of career paths.  By putting them through the paces of law practice in a setting that closely simulates life as a young lawyer, students gain the skills and confidence essential to their future success.” Based on success and reviews from students, Dean Meyer expects this program to continue growing and becoming a signature of the Tulane experience.