At GW Law, first-year students work with a faculty drawn from law firms of all sizes, governmental agencies, and nonprofits to learn what it takes to succeed in a profession that demands the highest commitment to adherence to the rule of law and delivering justice.
The Fundamentals of Lawyering Program is the result of a five-year effort by a fifteen-person planning committee formed to improve the school’s hands-on learning experiences by expanding students’ practical and experiential learning. Emily Hammond, the law school’s Jeffrey and Martha Kohn senior associate dean for academic affairs, describes the committee’s objective: “These enhancements will better prepare our students for success in today’s legal profession and position them to become leaders in the field both nationally and globally.”
Acknowledging the expanded scope of the first-year students’ learning experience, the law school changed the name of the program to Fundamentals of Learning, expanded the curriculum to include additional modules focused on skills like client interviewing, project management and pre-trial case management, changed from awarding four to six credits for the academic year, converted from an adjunct-based program to one offered by a director, two associate directors, and ten full-time visiting professors.
As redesigned, the FL Program more comprehensively covers the arc of a legal matter from intake to resolution by appeal. The expanded curriculum focuses on skill development but in the context of building responsive and responsible lawyer-client relationships.
At the same time, the law school added a course in Legislation and Regulation to the first-year curriculum to provide students with additional tools for effecting change. Together, these reforms represent the first refinements to the school’s core curriculum “in more than a generation,” committee members said.
Christy DeSanctis, a professor of legal research and writing and the former director of the FL Program, said the adjustments aimed to “produce more self-directed, self-sufficient, ‘practice-ready’ lawyers.” The expanded curriculum mirrors more closely what lawyers do every day.
The FL Program has helped students to better contextualize the writing that one does as a lawyer with the role of a lawyer and the relationship between the lawyer and client.
The shift from an adjunct-based model to one utilizing full-time faculty has led to the development of “mentor-mentee relationships” between the new professors and their students.
The FL Program works closely with the law school’s award-winning Inns of Court program to focus students on the lifelong career goals of professional identity formation and development. Program faculty serve as advisors, along with doctrinal faculty, administrators, and upper-class students who help students transition to and thrive in law school.