Experiential Learning Now Part of John Marshall’s Curriculum

For more than 100 years, the curriculum at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago has emphasized both the theory and the practice of law. Now the law school is going even further by requiring that all incoming students participate in an experiential learning experience.

The experiential learning is a three-credit graduation requirement that will have students meet new expectations for experiential learning through a clinical experience or an externship sometime during their last three semesters of law school. This program will help guarantee John Marshall students have the legal education foundation partnered with the training that makes them practice ready.

This new requirement builds upon John Marshall’s nationally recognized Lawyering Skills Program, ranked number two in the nation by US News and World Report’s Best Graduate Schools edition. With this additional experiential learning requirement, John Marshall leads the nation in the number of credits required in practice-based courses and experiential learning.

“This program will provide students with a thorough and richer professional experience that more fully integrates all of the skills, knowledge and values they have learned in law school,” said Anthony Niedwiecki, associate dean for Skills, Experiential Learning and Assessment.

Niedwiecki and his colleagues are structuring the experiential learning curriculum around 12 categories of skills, values and work. Students will be expected to meet at least six of these: interviewing, counseling, negotiation, drafting legal documents, legal research, fact investigation, problem-solving, alternative dispute resolution, managing legal work, advocacy and public education, oral communication and legal analysis.

“Law firms were once training grounds for new attorneys. Today law firms want those new attorneys to step in and be part of the firm from the day they walk through the door. At John Marshall, we’re preparing our students to meet those expectations,” he said.

“We are acting on the trends we see in the marketplace and stepping forward to give our students the advantage,” he explained. “John Marshall students have always received instruction in the theory and the practice of law. We are taking that one step beyond by giving all of our students hands-on experience before they graduate.”

Niedwiecki said the American Bar Association has been studying how law schools provide students with experiential learning. Through this new initiative, the ABA will be able to look to John Marshall’s program as one that other law schools will be able to emulate.

Students can combine experiences to meet the three credit requirement. For example, a student may earn two credits from a clinical experience, and an additional hour or two from an externship in a law office or at a government agency. The work also emphasizes the principles of professional responsibility.

John Marshall students have been gaining hands-on experience for 20 years through the Fair Housing Legal Clinic. In the past five years, the law school has added a Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic, a Pro Bono Program, and a Business Transactions Externship Program. Students have regularly served as externs with Cook County and U.S. District Court judges, and a host of government agencies. Students do research and assist attorneys in their offices and use the 711 license to present in court under the supervision of a practicing attorney.

Niedwiecki anticipates expanding the opportunities for students, especially those interested in assisting the underserved.

“We have been giving students the opportunity to develop experience through these opportunities,” Niedwiecki said. “Now, we will be making certain that each student gets the training they need, regardless whether they are day or evening students.”

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