The Skills Immersions – Pt. 1

As I mentioned yesterday, over the next few weeks, we will feature a number of blog posts discussing the various aspects of our third year curriculum. Today, we will begin, as each semester does for our 3Ls, with our skills immersions.

During the third year, each semester begins with a two week practice intensive, known as a skills immersion, in which students cultivate many of the practical skills they will likely need for their practicum and actual practice experiences. During this two week period, third year students are engaged in the skills immersion alone. In other words, no practicum courses. No actual practice experiences. The skills immersion is their only responsibility for these two weeks. By being separate from the beginning of the students’ other courses, professors have the students’ full attention for the two weeks of the immersion, and the students are able to apply a single-minded focus to their assignments and exercises.

The students work with their professors and in their groups from 9 to 5 every weekday for the two week period, and they often have work at home. As you might imagine, students describe the experience as “intense,” and “like a job rather than school.” The first skills immersion is litigation focused while second semester’s immersion is transactionally focused. However, both immersions involve taking a single representation from beginning to end.

In the litigation immersion, each student represents either an employer or an employee in a simple, wrongful discharge matter. In a single, two week-period, students have the experience of taking a case from start to finish. Throughout the litigation immersion, students play the role of the “clients”, and also represent a client in a separate but similar case.  Students are told in advance that their experiences in the immersion program will be free-flowing, and somewhat more realistic and unpredictable than their prior law school experiences, with new issues arising and changes of course taking place as the litigation develops. Furthermore, because the experience tracks a single case from beginning to end, students experience the results of their work: for example, a poorly drafted complaint yields problematic results at a later motion hearing or trial. As a result, students learn not only about the activity at any given time, but they learn about the quality of their work in other aspects of the same representation.

We asked one of our third-year students, Ned Hillenbrand, to discuss his experience in last semester’s skills immersion:

“During last fall’s Immersion Program, I played both the role of attorney and client in two separate but concurrent litigation simulations. As an attorney, I defended a grocery store owner in a civil lawsuit initiated by a former, disgruntled employee. After a preliminary interview with my client and receipt of the initial complaint, I handled the case’s discovery, evidentiary motions, settlement negotiations, and eventual trial. During the trial, I delivered an opening statement, examined my client and presented evidence, cross-examined the plaintiff, and delivered a closing argument in front of a faculty member who adjudicated the proceedings.

As a client, I was represented by a student in a wrongful termination suit against my former employer. I presented to my attorney the facts of the case and my objectives during the litigation. I spoke with my attorney thereafter about key evidence, settlement negotiations, and eventually my testimony at trial. During the eventual trial, I was examined by my attorney and cross-examined by opposing counsel, again, in front of a faculty member who adjudicated the proceedings.

Overall, it was an often exhausting, but enjoyable experience. Most days were filled with presentations, meetings, negotiations, and assignments for the following day. By providing the program as a pass/fail credit, I was able to embrace the chaos freely without concerns about grades. I had the opportunity work with my peers and faculty in two highly organized, fact-intensive simulations that required me to think on my feet and adapt to the obstacles presented.”

Daniel Isaacs-Smith, 3L:

“The fall immersion consists of litigation practice, where we spent two weeks simulating an entire civil trial from start to finish, including drafting pleadings, answers, interrogatories, and motions; arguing before a judge during a motion hearing; practicing direct and cross examinations and opening and closing statements; and finally, using all of these skills to try our case against the opposing party before a judge (or, more specifically, a faculty member serving as a judge for the purposes of the proceedings).  In addition, each student acted both as counsel and as either the plaintiff or defendant, so we were all given the opportunity to experience the trial from different perspectives.

Unlike many students, fall immersion was certainly not in my comfort zone.  As someone who came to law school from the banking world, with the express intention of avoiding litigation at all costs, the thought of spending two weeks simulating a real trial sent shivers down my spine.  However, at the end of the two weeks, I realized that I learned skills that are immeasurably valuable to any attorney, regardless of their choice of practice.  If you are someone like me, who is committed to one side or the other (litigation vs. transactional) of the law, remember to keep an open mind about the other—you might just learn something you will use in the future.  Who knows, you might even change your mind about what kind of law you want to practice in the first place.”

Tomorrow, we will take a look at the second semester’s more transactionally focused skills immersion. In the meantime, feel free to check out the following video on the skills immersions:

For additional information about our third year, stay tuned (of course), but also be sure to check out our Third Year webpage:

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