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Dean's Desk: A new curriculum at Valparaiso Law School

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Jay ConisonLaw schools have two natures. On the one hand, they are graduate academic programs, generally in universities. These programs are designed to impart knowledge and to teach graduates ways in which they can acquire and communicate knowledge – specifically knowledge about law. On the other hand, a law school is a path to a career. Through the educational program and other services, it develops professional skills in students and supports their entry into law or other professional practice.

Historically, law schools have emphasized their academic aspect. Thus, they have devoted most of their energies and resources to curricula that focus on knowledge acquisition by students and that are rich with courses in the many fields in which lawyers can practice. Increasingly, however, law schools have shifted their emphasis toward the career-preparation aspect. As part of this shift, law schools are devoting more resources to practice skills, career development and to services and forms of education that focus on what law school graduates do, rather than what they know. In some schools, this shift has led to very substantial changes in the curriculum.

Valparaiso is one of those schools. At Valparaiso, we have put aside small-scale tinkering with the curriculum and instead launched a complete restructuring. We started the process by asking fundamental questions about who our students are and what valuable knowledge, skills and resources we should provide them. After asking and answering these questions, we built the curriculum from ground up. We confirmed that our graduates pursue careers mainly in small- and medium-sized law firms, government and business. Confirming this enabled us to give important focus to our program. We also intensively studied how today’s students learn and what preparation they bring to law school. This allows us to adapt our pedagogy to today’s students, rather than to students at the time the professors were in law school. Finally, we worked with employers (and other experts) to identify the skills and capabilities students need to ensure they will be successful when they leave law school and pursue their careers.

The result is a very strategic curriculum with a distinctive purpose, focus and structure in each of the three years.

In the first year under the new curriculum, the focus is on developing core competencies, including problem-solving and client skills. The curriculum is presented in four seven-week sessions rather than in two fourteen week semesters to allow better staging of the program. There is tight integration of professors and instruction across each seven-week session and from one session to another. In the first year there is also an emphasis on developing problem-solving skills (through both an introductory course and a course on remedies). There is also an introduction to working with clients, a strong emphasis on writing and research, integration of practice skills with doctrinal instruction, and introduction to bar examination related skills. The new first-year curriculum will be implemented in fall 2013.

The second year will focus on core doctrinal courses, experiential education in the three areas where our students are likely to focus their practice and careers, intensive instruction in research and writing, and further instruction in bar examination related skills. The goal is for students, at the end of the second year, to be sufficiently well prepared to sit for the bar examination and provide basic legal representation – which they will be able to do in the third year.

The third year will consist of an immersion curriculum. It will provide students with enriched practice experience and focused, advanced substantive education. The goal is for the third year to facilitate a smooth transition from law school to career and practice. The third year will feature many clinical and externship offerings. It will also closely integrate the academic enterprise with the career planning enterprise, by having students develop (and begin to implement) personal career plans.

We believe that this new approach to law school education will better prepare our students for their careers and strongly support them in whatever path they choose after graduation. We also believe that it will increase the satisfaction of students and graduates. Finally, it is a collaborative product of our faculty, and as it is implemented will increase our faculty’s satisfaction with the education and mentoring they provide every day.•



Jay Conison has been dean of Valparaiso University Law School since 1998. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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