New Leadership & Professional Development Course for 1L Students at William & Mary Ensures Equal Opportunity for Skills Building

No matter where they work, lawyers need professional skills like relationship-building, leadership, and cultural awareness.

Groups such as the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System have long established — and William & Mary Law School’s strategic planning process confirms — the critical importance of these and other competencies for successful careers in law.

To ensure that its students enter the profession equipped with a wide array of core competencies, the Law School will require first-year students to successfully complete a one-credit course in leadership and professional development. The requirement implements part of the school-wide strategic plan for 2021-2026 and will take effect in fall 2022.

“As part of the strategic planning process, we talked with alumni around the country,” notes Stephanie Rever Chu, a 1992 graduate of the Law School and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Planning. “We know that William & Mary students graduate with excellent advocacy, legal research, and writing skills. But our alumni confirmed that new lawyers also need to be able to work independently, communicate effectively as part of a team, and manage complex projects, among other skills. This course will enable William & Mary students to inspire confidence and establish an outstanding professional presence to round out their excellent legal education.”

“Our students are graduating into an increasingly competitive job market,” adds A. Benjamin Spencer, Dean of the Law School. “Equipping them with these skills and tools is an important part of a comprehensive legal education — a thorough approach that prepares them to be effective and fulfilled in their work and standout leaders in their specific fields of expertise.”

The new Leadership and Professional Development course also aligns with an American Bar Association revision to Standard 303, part of the ABA’s standards for law schools. The change requires accredited institutions to create substantial opportunities for the “development of a professional identity.” 

“Many of our existing voluntary programs address a variety of professional development skills, but it makes such a difference when all students have had the opportunity to build these skills,” says Michael Ende, Associate Dean for the school’s Office of Career Services. “With the course requirement, we are preparing all William & Mary Law students for success as they enter the profession.”

Students in the new course will meet monthly through the academic year to learn more about communication and relationship-building; self-assessment and self-direction; cultural awareness; giving and receiving feedback; resilience; and project management, productivity, and technology. The course will incorporate best practices from across the legal profession and will be designed to create opportunities in each session for self-reflection and engaged discussion.

“Through our broadened and well-rounded curriculum, students will be better prepared to shape the profession, serve their communities, and deliver fully on their potential as leaders — right out of the gate,” Spencer says. “They’ll be more than ready.”