The 1L as Lawyer, Part 2: Spotlight on NYU Law

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Decades before the cries that law school curricula needed stronger practical components, NYU had a practical course called Lawyering. “My sense is that it was never a response to internal pressure,” says Andy Williams, Director of the Lawyering Program at New York University School of Law. “[The founders] felt it was the right way to teach.” Fashioned as the first moment of practice for future lawyers, this year-long simulation course teaches 1L students to think like lawyers.

Though this mission is shared with Harvard Law’s own Problem Solving Workshop, Williams clarifies that Lawyering is not simply a problem solving course. “We give students the tools to sort a problem out and ask them to sort it out,” he said, “but it’s not the lens through which I view the course.” Rather, the Lawyering Program is designed to build skills and thoughtful inquiry comprehensively, from the ground up. To deal with a legal situation, students learn a four-step process: question, prepare, execute, critique. The course schedule (meeting twice weekly for 2.5 credits per semester) integrates learning throughout the year, while the emphasis on small group work and debriefing makes the simulations engaging, consequential, and ultimately more real, says Williams.

Exercises grow in complexity over the year. The course begins with understanding a single statute, and moves to drafting a legal argument with a closed universe of cases. Then, students practice interviewing witnesses and drafting affidavits. Students conclude the fall semester by taking a hypothetical client—played by a teaching assistant—all the way through a legal situation, from interview to memorandum to counsel.

In the spring, the dynamics become more strategic. Students conduct 2-2, 2-1, or 1-1 negotiations and draft contracts, with law and business faculty providing additional support. The capstone exercise is a motion and oral argument, with feedback from a practitioner or judge.

Students take on many lawyer roles, including public interest, federal defense, in-house counsel for medicine or pharmaceuticals, and private defense. Each exercise is couched in a different area of law, such as employment discrimination, money laundering, licensing deals, or the Indian Child Welfare Act. The 16-person lawyering faculty develops the course materials, and adapts the curriculum to changing needs. Williams remembers his time as a student in Lawyering, when the negotiation exercise involved litigation. “Now,” he explains, “it’s transactional. So many students want to go into transactional work. And in the last few years, we’ve increased the financial literacy with the understanding that our students need to know this to be practicing lawyers.”