This academic program stresses the traditional rigor of the Socratic method and the development of critical analysis skills. After the required first-year curriculum, in the second and third years the student elects a course of study best suited to individual needs and interests, culminating in advanced courses, seminars, independent research, clinical programs, and fieldwork in private and government institutions in the Washington area.
The clinical program provides an intensive, closely supervised educational experience in which second-year and third-year students function as lawyers, taking full responsibility for litigated and transactional matters under the tutelage of faculty members.
The clinics are designed to provide for each student a laboratory within which to learn such lawyering skills as client interviewing and counseling, factual development, case theory development, case preparation, witness preparation, the proof of facts, the application of the rules of evidence, oral argument, strategic planning, drafting of litigation and transactional documents, and negotiation. In addition, the clinics’ law offices are ideal environments in which to begin to understand the demands of professional responsibility, to grapple with the difficult emotional issues raised by those emands, and to explore the relationships among theory, doctrine, and practice.
The clinical method attempts to teach the student through individual supervision, simulations, classroom discussions, case rounds, and critiques of both actual lawyering performances and simulated exercises. By this process students gain an understanding of the criteria by which one judges success as a lawyer and a basis for evaluating one’s own work in the context of those criteria.
Clinics generally are oversubscribed. Admission to the clinics is based, among other things, on an application filed in the spring semester prior to the year the student seeks to participate in clinic. The clinical faculty take a variety of factors into account in making clinical selections. For more specific information about the selection process, consult the clinical program website. Application forms, as well as information on prerequisites, credits, and expenses, are available online. A meeting is held each spring to describe the clinical program to upper-level students. Second-year students are eligible for the Community and Economic Development Law Clinic, Disability Rights Law Clinic, Civil Advocacy Clinic, Intellectual Property Law Clinic, Immigrant Justice Clinic, and International Human Rights Law Clinic, while the other clinics are open only to third-year students due to the requirements of student practice rules, which authorize the supervised representation of clients by students.
The Independent Study Program
This program enables a student to earn academic credit for directed research performed under a contract between the student and a member of the faculty upon approval of the dean.
The Externship Program
The law school’s Supervised Externship Program allows students to learn about the legal profession through law-related fieldwork and, at the same time, to develop their reflective learning skills under close faculty supervision. Students are placed in government agencies and nonprofit organizations, where they work under the supervision of a practicing attorney. In tandem with the field placement, students meet weekly in a seminar led by a faculty member. The seminar draws on the placement work and assists students in reflecting on the work of the lawyer and on their own professional goals. Students also meet frequently in small groups or individually with the faculty member to discuss the progress of the externship. In some cases, students may participate in independent tutorial externships, which must be arranged with and supervised by a faculty sponsor.
Juris Doctor Degree Requirements
The degree of juris doctor (JD) is conferred upon students who satisfactorily complete no fewer than 86 semester hours, including all required courses, with a quality point index of 2.0 (C) or better, who are in residence at this law school for at least three full academic years or the equivalent, who have fulfilled the upper-level writing requirement and the professional skills requirement, and who are recommended for the degree by the faculty. Credit hour requirements are normally met in six semesters (three academic years) of full-time study or in eight semesters (four academic years plus at least one summer session) of part-time study. Study for the JD degree must be completed in no more than eighty-four months.
Degree requirements make it mandatory that resident semesters be taken at the law school unless waived by the registrar on the basis of extraordinary, compelling personal circumstances. A semester is a period of instruction of at least 70 class days, excluding reading and examination periods, or the equivalent. A semester credit requires one hour of classroom contact per week for one semester.
A maximum of 12 non-classroom credits may be applied toward the 86 credits required for the JD degree. Such credits include but are not limited to those in field components, law journals and reviews, externship fieldwork, non-law classes, independent studies, moot court, and mock trial.
General. The full-time and part-time programs of study leading to the juris doctor degree are the same, each having basic requirements and differing only in the time and sequence of scheduled courses and seminars. While the law faculty is always engaged in program evaluation and change, there are underlying features that remain constant in the legal education offered:
- Required courses that provide tools of critical analysis in basic areas of substance
- A balance between courses or methods oriented toward the practical world of the profession and those oriented toward the world of inquiry and understanding
- A variety of learning processes, including the traditional classroom, the small seminar, independent work, research seminars, clinical or special activities under professional supervision, externships, and practicums.
- The relevance of other disciplines or professions in the legal process, when needed.
Full-Time Program Required Courses
Part-Time Program Required Courses
Electives and Course Sequences
The academic counseling system described below helps each student select among the courses and seminars that constitute the elective portion of the curriculum. While students are encouraged to attend summer programs to meet their individual needs, they should make careful plans in advance and inquire about the possible effects summer programs may have on their total program, on compliance with the Washington College of Law residency requirements, and on their admission to the bars of the states in which they intend to practice. The courts of a few states have adopted rules that require law school graduates who wish to practice in those states to have taken certain courses. Students should determine what courses, if any, are required by the state(s) in which they wish to practice by contacting the state bar examiners. Prior to preregistration for each semester (normally during the latter part of the previous semester), the law school will announce the offerings in elective as well as required courses, followed by a period of counseling and preregistration. Course sequences in areas of concentration from basic to more advanced must be planned carefully to ensure proper completion of prerequisites for advanced courses. Academic planning materials are available from the registrar and the dean of students.
The associate dean for student affairs administers the academic advising program, which provides counseling to all students in need of assistance. The program has two components.
First-Year Students. Academic advising for first-year students begins before they complete the prescribed curriculum, which occupies the first two semesters for full-time students and the first three semesters for part-time students. A comprehensive planning guide is prepared by the dean of students and distributed to students in advance of preregistration for the next fall semester. General counseling sessions are held prior to preregistration in the spring for first-year students to review the elective phase of the curriculum. Professors are available to discuss course selection, and the associate dean for student affairs also will counsel first-year students individually upon request.
Continuing and Advanced-Standing Students. The associate dean for student affairs provides academic counseling for any continuing student and for students transferring to the law school from another law school. Faculty members also should be consulted for advice and counsel. Counseling information is available from the dean of students and registrar.
Upper-Level Writing Requirement
As a requirement for graduation from the Washington College of Law, all students must meet a minimum legal writing requirement after completion of their first year of legal study or part-time equivalent. The purpose of the upper-level writing requirement is to ensure that prior to graduation each student shall have demonstrated competency in legal research and writing by producing a paper that demonstrates a high degree of skill in legal scholarship, writing ability, and craftsmanship.
The upper-level written work requirement may be satisfied by writing a paper in connection with a law school seminar when the seminar instructor certifies that the main evaluative instrument will satisfy the requirement. It may also be satisfied in other ways as long as it is prepared under the supervision of a WCL faculty member starting with topic selection and meets the requirements of the policy statement. What is essential, however, is that the written product, in whatever form or length, should be informed and reflective. Given the purpose of the project and the method(s) used, it should reflect appropriate legal craftsmanship; a substantial commitment of time, effort, and thought; and demonstrated competency in legal research and writing.
A grade of C or better received for two credit hours of work is required to satisfy the requirement, and students should consider completing this requirement prior to their last semester of law study.
For more information, students should obtain a copy of the full policy statement from the registrar or the dean of students.
Professional Skills Requirement
To receive the JD degree, all students must successfully complete an elective course that includes substantial instruction in professional skills generally regarded as necessary for effective and responsible participation in the legal profession. Substantial instruction in professional skills must engage each student in skills performances that are assessed by the instructor. This class is taken in addition to required courses with instruction in substantive law, legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem solving, oral communication, writing in a legal context, and professional responsibility. Those who have questions about whether or not a particular course, or their performance in that course, satisfies the requirement should check with the law school registrar.
A student may satisfy this requirement through successful completion of a class that includes instruction in such professional skills as trial and appellate advocacy, alternative methods of dispute resolution, reflective judgment, counseling, interviewing, negotiating, problem solving, factual investigation, organization, or management. The requirement may be satisfied through a course for the entire group of students enrolled in the class or it may be satisfied individually.