Innovation at Temple Law

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a variety of issues impacting the future of legal education, mostly in preparation for a gathering of law school deans next month that will address the many questions confronting us at this time.  I want to be very clear – I’m excited about this conversation, and about this time in American legal education.  The challenges to our profession over the past few years have given rise to a new spirit of innovation and insight into how we both teach and practice law, and it is wonderful to experience. I’m proud of my colleagues here at Temple and at our peer institutions for the resilience and the passion they have brought to this sometimes daunting task.

I realized during the course of my preparations that many of our friends and alumni may not be aware of what we’re doing at Temple Law to prepare students for practice in our evolving profession. Our students have to be prepared to practice in ways that would never have been possible for earlier generations. That’s why we have committed ourselves to pushing legal education in new directions, preparing students for success wherever and however they choose to practice.

Our #2 US News & World Report rank in trial advocacy isn’t just because we win a lot of competitions; it’s because our integrated transactional and trial advocacy programs are so successful at producing practice-ready graduates.  That’s why we’ve built on these award-winning programs to create a new model for hands on legal education that starts earlier and goes farther than other experiential curricula. Our Introduction to Transactional Skills (ITS) mini-course gets first-year students out of the classroom and into a business deal within weeks of the first day of law school, while Litigation Basics gets them on their feet litigating a mock case, from questioning witnesses in a deposition to cross-examining them at trial.  I’m proud to report that these new first-year courses were recently recognized as among the most innovative law school initiatives in the country by National Jurist Magazine.

Many students have reported that doing what lawyers do so early in their law school career has given them a sense of professional identity and confidence in themselves, and it shows.  We think this is so important that we’ve also created the Temple Summer Professional Experience Curriculum (T-SPEC), which blends internships in a variety of local settings with a classroom component focused on professionalism and ethics as they arise in the course of the students’ summer work.

Summer also finds several Temple Law students traveling to D.C. for our pioneering Law & Public Policy program, where they work in policy-oriented internships, are mentored by Temple Law alumni, and engage in a collaborative learning experience about how change happens.  The program is directed by Professor Nancy J. Knauer, who is featured in What the Best Law Teachers Do by Michael Hunter Schwartz.  The Law & Public Policy program is more than just a summer program, however; students also have the option of spending a semester living and working in Washington D.C., and will soon have an opportunity to examine policy-making in urban environments through a Philadelphia-based course offering as well.

Upper level students have a range of innovative opportunities available to them during the school year, depending on their particular interests and professional plans.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Our Low Income Taxpayer Policy and Practice course combines classroom policy discussions with service in the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, giving students the chance to experience first-hand the impact of national tax policy as they help low income taxpayers prepare their annual returns;
  • Our American Red Cross Disaster Relief Clinic, in which students learn about disaster recovery, conduct intake interviews at Red Cross House, prepare estate planning documents for disaster survivors, and create educational brochures for the Red Cross on legal questions common to disaster relief efforts.  Like ITS, the Red Cross clinic emphasizes collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving, all of which are modeled by the several faculty members who work together to teach the course;
  • Our clinic in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Charging Unit, in which students, under supervision, make charging decisions in misdemeanor site arrests and approve or decline arrest warrants in misdemeanor cases; review and determine approval of search warrants; and conduct arraignment court and advocate on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for appropriate bail.  In doing so, students apply law to real cases and grapple with the ethical and professional issues prosecutors face in practice.  Like the Red Cross clinic, this clinic is designed to give evening students access to for-credit experiential opportunities;
  • Our Transactional Skills Workshop, which teaches the theory behind the need for transactional lawyers and puts students in a simulated deal where they must negotiate and draft complex documents;
  • Our Legal Issues in Business Strategic Planning course, a collaborative effort with Temple’s Fox School of Business in which Temple Law students and Temple MBA students work together to advise real start-up companies through Fox’s Enterprise Management Consulting program;
  • Our Global Scholars program, which prepares students to think of their future practice in a global context through internship opportunities in Rome and in Tokyo, and gives them direct experience engaging with lawyers and members of foreign legal institutions through a series of lectures, simulated exercises, and networking events; and
  • For those students with very specific interests, the Temple Law Practicum, a unique experiential learning opportunity that engages a student, a full-time faculty member and often a practicing attorney in solving a real problem for a real client.

As the legal profession continues to evolve, lawyers are finding new opportunities every day for solving the problems facing our families, our businesses, and our communities. At Temple Law, we see the potential in our students for doing a world of good in ways never before possible for lawyers, and we’re committed to giving them the tools to get it done.

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