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2.2 The Professional Skills Center

The Professional Skills Center provides the academic support services at the Law School. Our goal is to ensure that each student has the opportunity to learn the doctrine (law) and skills necessary to become a lawyer in an environment that is appropriate to her/his learning style and needs. Teachers are available to work with students primarily in the first and second years.

Because students’ needs change as they progress through law school, the Skills Center’s services are allocated differently over the course of the academic program. There is a focus on the first three semesters for day students and the first four semesters for evening students, when it is critical that students hone fundamental analytical, writing, and academic and study skills. Students can come to the Skills Center to work on developing effective study skills and strategies, improving essay exam-writing, reviewing doctrinal material from classes and simulations, and re-drafting written work such as memos and writing samples. The following are some of the major support services available to students in the first and second years.

Summer Law Institute

Entering students are invited to apply to participate in the Summer Law Institute (SLI), an intensive, two-week introduction to the doctrine, skills, and methods of law school study. Using materials derived from their fall semester classes, students prepare for and attend class (taught by Law School faculty), take notes, outline doctrine, and take practice exams. Students receive extensive individual feedback on a variety of written and oral exercises. Day sections of SLI are generally limited to approximately 20 students each. The evening section of SLI is co-taught in a large group, with frequent small group work.

First-Year Orientation

The Orientation program is required for all incoming students. The academic component of the program focuses on an introduction to the legal system, case reading and briefing, and legal analysis, in order to give students grounding in the skills that they will need for success during the year. The Orientation program also uses material from upcoming fall semester classes.

First-Semester Services

The Skills Center provides extensive services to students in the first year in both the day and evening programs. During the first semester, there is a weekly “Skills Session” in each section (noted on the block schedule), focusing on both the skills and doctrine from Criminal Law, Constitutional Law (LEDP), and Contracts (LME) classes. Specific topics, such as class preparation (case reading and briefing), in-class note taking, outlining, and study strategies and exam preparation, are covered in the context of material drawn from the required classes. The Skills Sessions are entirely voluntary.

In addition, individual and small-group conferences are available, via an online sign-up sheet. Students are invited to bring any questions or concerns regarding law school, such as doctrine, writing, skills, organization, study strategies, etc. The Skills Center also conducts two additional series of workshops: one focusing specifically on practicing the art and science of writing essay exams; and the other on close-case reading. Information on both those series is distributed early in the first semester. Skills sessions and individual conferences are offered regularly on weekends for evening students.

In conjunction with the faculty, the Skills Center conducts review sessions for all midterm and final exams, and skills teachers are available to review exams with students for revision.

Second-Semester Services

In the spring semester, Skills Center services for full-time day students are more targeted. The optional weekly Skills Sessions and exam reviews continue, but there are no longer individual appointments available on a sign-up basis. Instead, the Skills Center offers Legal Methods, a focused, semester-long, three-hour-a-week, non-credit workshop. Participation in Legal Methods is either by referral or permission of the instructor and requires a commitment to attend throughout the semester. Again, the work of Legal Methods is drawn from the required classes, but it is more focused in terms of individual written feedback.

To correlate with the amount of doctrinal skills experience accumulated at this point in the program, evening students in their second semester continue to receive the same Skills Center services as they receive in the first semester, with sessions and individual/small group conferences available during the week and weekend.

Second-Year Services

In the fall semester of the full-time, second-year program, the Skills Center offers Individual Skills Development (a course similar to Legal Methods) to students referred, based on first-year GPA and student self-referrals. In addition, there will be exam reviews for selected required courses for the second-year class, as a whole. Skills Center staff will also offer office hours for individual or study group meetings.

By the second semester of the second year, most students are well acquainted with the rigors of the Law School curriculum, and are successful in meeting its challenges. Consequently, the need for support services is designed on an individual basis to assist those who are most in need.

Evening students in their second year receive predominantly the same services that they received in the first year of the program, again in direct correlation with amount of doctrinal skills experience gained thus far.

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