Legal Writing Class Creates Unique Experience and Relationships
This legal writing class enables 1L students to acquire comprehensive lawyering skills in their first year
Teaching students to put legal theory into practice is the hallmark of Seton Hall Law. The Law School has always offered a strong array of clinical programs, externships and Legal Practice programs to provide students with unparalleled opportunities to practice, in the real world, the knowledge and skills they acquire in the classroom.
Adding to this experiential focus, Seton Hall Law launched an innovative Introduction to Lawyering program in 2014 to bring this combination of theory and practice into the first year of law school. This year-long legal writing class, held in a small group setting and led by full-time professors, introduces students to the fundamentals of legal practice. Going beyond traditional legal research and writing offerings, it trains students in interviewing, client counseling, and negotiating while also equipping them to navigate the ethical and business challenges of the profession.
Benjamin Heller ’17
Dean Kathleen M. Boozang emphasizes that the structure of the class is as important as its content. “Introduction to Lawyering allows our first-year students to learn in a small, intimate group with a single professor,” she said. “The students can rely on that professor for guidance and mentorship throughout their three or four years of law school. We’ve always been known as a law school with an open-door policy, where professors are available to give advice and counsel to students outside of class, but Lawyering takes that to a new level.”
Maya Grosz, Director of the Skills Curriculum and a Lawyering professor, was a driving force behind the design of the course. She sought input from attorneys and judges about how to better prepare law students to work in the profession, and used that input to shape the class.
“Lawyering professors are working with their students during Orientation, even before the first day of classes, to teach them how to read cases, how to prepare for their other classes, and how to start ‘thinking like a lawyer,’” Professor Grosz explained. “Students are better able to grasp the substance of their first-year courses from day one. In addition, Lawyering enables upper-level students in our Legal Practice courses in negotiation or interviewing to function at a much higher level, because they have already been introduced to those skills in the first year.”
Much of the learning in Introduction to Lawyering takes place through simulations, in which students assume the role of associate attorneys on behalf of simulated “clients.” Professors conduct individual conferences with students, simulating a partner-associate meeting in a law firm. Students also conduct role-play sessions with actors serving as clients, interviewing, counseling, and negotiating on their “clients’” behalf. These interactions are typically videotaped so students may review their performance with their professors.
“The role-play sessions are an incredible learning experience because they allow students the opportunity to develop practical skills that they couldn't learn in a regular classroom setting,” said Preeya Varma ’18. “The reflection on my role-play session was extremely valuable. I watched the video of my client interview session and then sat with Professor St. Romain to discuss the areas I could improve on. I learned how to better prepare for meetings with a client and how to conduct myself in a professional and reassuring way, which boosted both my confidence and my overall performance.”
Jason Sumbaly ’18
Students are also challenged to consider the ethical issues faced by attorneys, and to understand how the skills they are acquiring fit within the context of the profession. In addition, students learn to collaborate, to pursue high levels of professionalism, and to reflect on their experiences. Chelsea Ott ’17 appreciated that aspect of the Introduction to Lawyering course. “Beyond the skills one expects to learn in a legal writing class, such as proper ‘Bluebooking’ and formatting for briefs and memos, I gained an invaluable understanding of the professionalism required when meeting and corresponding with clients, partners, and judges,” Ott explained. “I was able to see the life cycle of a case and learn about different areas of law I would not have encountered until far later in my law school career. I was more confident in interviews for summer associate positions knowing that I had substantive experiences to discuss, and a solid writing sample that had gone through various iterations. Most important, I gained a mentor and ally in my Lawyering professor.”
Ben Forrest concurred. “From day one, my Lawyering professor was my number one advocate at Seton Hall Law,” he concluded. “He wanted to see me improve not only in his class, not only in my other classes, but in life as a person. He always reminded me of finding the humanity in the legal profession. The relationship I formed with him will forever shape me as a person and a lawyer, something I will always be thankful for.”
(pictured: Introduction to Lawyering Professor Claudette St. Romain counsels 1L students Preeya Varma, Eric Padilla, Jason Sumbaly and Omid Irani as they role-play with actor Megan Doss. Actors credit: PowerPlays Coaching)