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Large-firm practice may not be the career choice for every lawyer, but at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, it’s a course requirement for every student. Starting next year, the school will call on all third-year students to participate in its new Law Firm Program, a series of courses that simulates big-firm lawyering. Developed with input from a large group of lawyers working at some of the nation’s most prestigious firms, the Law Firm Program is designed to enhance students’ practical skills and make the third year of law school more meaningful. The school’s changes, in part, are a response to criticism from the legal profession directed at law schools generally that graduates are not ready to practice law, said Mark Gordon, the school’s dean. In January, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching issued a report calling for law schools to improve practical skills training and ethics instruction. The report faulted law schools for devoting only “casual attention” to teaching students how to use legal thinking in the actual practice of law. Detroit Mercy School of Law launched its pilot program this semester and has 18 students enrolled. Starting next year, it will require all of its 180 third-year students to complete at least four credits in the Law Firm Program. Students will be able to take up to 26 credits of the program’s courses, which use the same numeric grading system as in most of the school’s other courses. A unique ‘blend’ “It’s a blend of academics and practice,” said Baker & McKenzie partner Craig Roeder. A corporate and securities attorney in the law firm’s Chicago office, he served on the advisory board, established by Gordon about two years ago, to revise the school’s third-year curriculum. The board, chaired by former American Bar Association President Dennis Archer, also includes partners from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Morrison & Foerster; Shearman & Sterling; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw and many others. General counsel from Amazon.com Inc., DaimlerChysler Financial Services, Metaldyne Corp. and other companies also sit on the board and provided input in the new curriculum. Most board members are not alumni of the school. Gordon, who has served as dean since 2002, said that his school does not focus on law school rankings, which makes it easier to implement innovative changes. In the latest edition of law school rankings by U.S. News & World Report, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law is in the fourth tier. “We are one of the few law schools that does not play the rankings game,” Gordon said. “That gives us the flexibility to focus on creating a curriculum that best prepares students to be attorneys, rather than a curriculum that best positions us for the rankings.” In addition to adopting suggestions from the school’s board members, Detroit Mercy also has established four distinguished visiting professorships. Those positions are filled by retired practitioners from area law firms who, along with regular tenured faculty, will teach courses in the Law Firm Program. Students as associates The program centers on a core transaction, which serves as the hub for separate, smaller courses in which students focus on different aspects of the transaction, including real estate, intellectual property, litigation, environmental law, labor and employment issues and more. This semester, former Dykema Gossett Chairman Lloyd Semple, who retired from the law firm in 2003, is a distinguished visiting professor teaching the pilot program. He functions as a firm chairman, with students serving as the associates. The transaction this semester involves an asset sale of a detergent manufacturer with significant intellectual property holdings. The students all work as attorneys at a firm representing one of the bidders wanting to buy the company through auction. Students are broken into groups, which represent different practices in a large law firm.

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