Message from the Dean: Training Lawyers Ready to Make a Difference

Dean DouglasDear Readers,

Our central mission as a law school is to train excellent lawyers who are equipped to make a difference in the world as citizen lawyers. To that end, we have recently redoubled our efforts to prepare practice-ready law graduates.

More than 20 years ago, we launched our award-winning Legal Skills Program to equip our students to be particularly well prepared to enter the legal workforce upon graduation. Our Legal Skills Program placed all of our students into "law firms," through which we trained them in the full array of legal skills that they would need to succeed as lawyers. As a result of some recent initiatives, we are now doing more than ever to prepare our students for the practice of law.

First, we recently expanded our Legal Skills Program (which we now call our Legal Practice Program) in some important ways, including placing an even greater emphasis on legal writing. We have hired a terrific group of full-time legal writing instructors comprised of outstanding lawyers who are particularly gifted at teaching legal writing.

Second, in the past few years, we have dramatically increased our Legal Clinic Program so that most of our students, with supervision, can now represent their own clients. We launched three new legal clinics this year - an Elder Law Clinic, an Appellate Litigation Clinic, and a Coastal Policy Clinic - giving us a total of nine clinics. This expansion allows 150 students to represent clients in one of our clinics each year. Our legal clinics have won broad acclaim. Our Veterans Benefits Clinic, generously supported by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and the Virginia Bar Association, has captured national attention for its remarkable success. In its short history, this clinic has already secured more than $10 million in benefits for our clients. Our new Elder Law Clinic, generously supported by the Beazley Foundation, will be featured in the January 2013 issue of the ABA Journal.

Third, we have greatly expanded our externship program during the past three years. Now, each year, more than 200 students earn academic credit by working in a variety of legal settings, including, for example, judges' chambers, corporations and private law firms, prosecutor offices and other governmental settings, and nonprofit organizations. These externships provide invaluable legal experience for our students as they prepare to enter the legal market.

Fourth, in addition to our outstanding Moot Court and Trial teams, we have in recent years added other competition teams to help our students develop their lawyering skills. These new teams include an Alternative Dispute Resolution team and a Tax Competition team. These skills competition teams provide marvelous experience for our students. Each of our many competition teams has enjoyed considerable success. Last year, for example, our Moot Court team was selected as one of the top 16 teams in the United States to compete in a special moot court tournament in Houston.

Finally, through the generous support of our alumni, we now are able to offer many of our students one-year post-graduate fellowships whereby they hone their lawyering skills through closely supervised work in a variety of legal settings.

These are just a few of the many ways in which we are strengthening our commitment to training practice-ready law graduates. We often hear from judges and lawyers how well prepared our graduates are for the practice of law. We agree with that assessment, but we will not rest on our past successes. We remain committed to improving the legal skills of our students, equipping them to become excellent lawyers who will make a difference in the world.

Davison M. Douglas
Dean and Arthur B. Hanson Professor of Law