Maureen O'Rourke.
Maureen O’Rourke. (Photo: Kalman Zabarsky/Boston University Photography)

Practical-skills training is typically relegated to the 2L and 3L years in law school, but first-year students at the Boston University School of Law will get a taste of life as a lawyer starting next year.

All 1Ls will be required to complete the school’s so-called Lawyering Lab—a weeklong, one-credit course in which they will learn transactional law by simulating a business deal.

“The course requires students to marshal the legal concepts they have learned and to bring them to bear on a real-world problem,” said professor Kent Coit, who heads the school’s transactional law program. “Students will practice key lawyering skills to achieve a client’s objectives within the bounds of the law.”

The students will role-play as attorneys representing business clients on two sides of a deal. They will be presented with a scenario based on a transaction between a large U.S.-based company and a small foreign company. The deal centers on the commercialization of medical device technology owned by the foreign firm, and involves litigation between the two parties.

The 1Ls will review a supply agreement and draft a contract geared at avoiding future litigation. They will identify the client’s goals and any legal constraints and opportunities, working under deadlines in collaboration with colleagues.

“Through interactive discussion and hands-on exercises, the students will consider whether a business deal should be pursued by their respective clients, and what the deal should look like,” said professor Fred Tung, who will lead the initiative.

The Lawyering Lab will be held during the week before the start of the spring semester.

Practical-skills training is a hot trend in legal education right now, although real-world skills traditionally have been relegated to clinics and upper-level courses. But a growing number of law schools are recognizing that first-year students also benefit from hands-on training, which can provide a break from the traditional, doctrinal 1L core curriculum. Boston University’s program was devised by a faculty task force established by law dean Maureen O’Rourke.

All first-year students will use a self-assessment tool to identify their strengths and weaknesses before they start the Lawyering Lab, and their subsequent spring semester classes will incorporate real-word practice simulations.

“The Lawyering Lab is part of a comprehensive effort by BU to increase student understanding of the competencies that they will need as practicing lawyers, deliver a curriculum that builds on the school’s excellent teaching while introducing students to a wider range of lawyering skills, and teach students how to both assess their own professional development and strengthen any skill deficiencies,” O’Rourke said.

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