Reimagining Legal Education

Early Experiential Learning and Community Engagement in Legal Education

The Schools of Education and Law plan to implement nationally unprecedented engaged learning curricular innovations at the Law School. These innovations will result in hundreds of law students providing over 15,000 hours of free legal services each year to the poor in Washtenaw County and beyond. The five-year pilot program will be closely studied by the Center for Educational Design, Evaluation, and Research (CEDER) in the School of Education.

This project will re-write and re-orient the Law School’s mandatory first-year Legal Writing and Practice Program (LWPP). Each of the approximately 320 first-year students will experience this class predominantly in the role of lawyer. Each will learn, in part, by performing real legal work to address real legal problems of the poor. Through this work they will begin to learn fundamental and often inter-personal lawyering competencies necessary in the practice of law. Because of the clients they will serve, they will also be called upon to navigate and forge relationships across racial, cultural and socio-economic divides. The vast majority of the students’ clients will be persons living 200% or more below the federal poverty rate.

This effort will also create a complementary first-year law clinic where students will get an even deeper and more complex engagement with the same client base and take primary responsibility for clients in contested matters. These 160 students will work alongside 40 upper-level advanced students. All will fully occupy the role of lawyer for disadvantaged people in Washtenaw County and beyond. In doing so in the context of a structured curriculum, they will fully immerse themselves in that role intellectually and experientially. Based on work to date, we are hopeful that, at the end, we will have substantially contributed to the education of more capable, more humane and more socially attuned lawyers and leaders of tomorrow.

Project Team

Daniel Crane, Law School

Stephen DesJardins, School of Education and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Monica Hakimi, Law School

David Santacroce, Law School